Bentley's Bandstand: April 2016
by Bill Bentley, Columnist
Brian Cullman, The Opposite of Time. The name Brian Cullman might be more recognizable as a byline in a music magazine, but the man's second album could sure change all that. His music sounds like missives from the dark streets of Manhattan, with plenty of menace flirting around the edges but never so overblown that everything ends up in the East River. This is someone who has seen it all, but is smart enough to only use what fits into each of his songs. They are powerfully straight ahead, and don't pander to any baser instincts than are necessary. Really, Brian Cullman is a folk rocker running on rocket fuel, and a man after our own hearts. He's been on the scene for so long that some call him Zelig Jr., a real compliment, and while he's been in no hurry to chip his name on the rock wall, Cullman's latest set has a more urgent lilt to his songs. "And She Said" sounds as good as anything from the hey day of mid-'60s or late-'80s, which is saying something, and if rock radio still existed they would no doubt push it to the top of the charts. But, alas, those days are gone so maybe Spotifiers will somehow discover the song and turn the spotlight on Mr. Cullman. Come to think of it, most of the magazines he wrote for are long gone too, so the Not-So-Brave New World he has entered needs to extend whatever helping hand it can. For an artist who has released their music on Sunnyside Records deserves no less than the best, simply for believing and pushing on. The line starts here.
What is The Opposite of Time?
by Paul Cameron Opperman
Wait, I think I know this guy/ didn’t he play with/ wait a minute, didn’t he write that article/ I mean, was he that guy/ I think he lent me a marxophone once/ yeah that’s him.
I just thought I would get that out of the way – any way you slice it, Brian Cullman is or has been “that guy” – going back to teenage years hanging with the Witchseason crowd to playing with Vernon Reid to travelling through Morocco with Bill Laswell and the musicians of Jajouka, he has been there and back, and documented it all in songs and award winning journalism.
But none of that is why you should listen to his new record, “The Opposite of Time”. The songs are right there. It is a real record, like they used to make - a real true journey that tells its tale of time in a dazzling array of exits, rest stops, hotel rooms, and hidden vaults.
Time – it is everywhere, in every song, even when it is not. Nothing but time, as in the song “Nothing”. From the swampy groove of “Times Are Tight” to the unexpected blues trawl of “Walk The Dog Before I Sleep”, the songs detour and detox, stopping here and there to check things out before leaving again – “And She Said” swings hard between a Byrdsian jangle and a Harritone – this record is so awash in musical history it is a pleasure just sitting back and trainspotting the moments. Moments in time. Time. Time.
“After All The Gifts”, a heartbreaker, springs from the ghost of Nick Drake’s bedsit – did I mention that Cullman actually opened for him once? Well that was in another country, and besides, the wench is dead. The last song “Unspoiled” is such a proper ending, an Eno-y piece of lovely release, release from the ever coming on of night, of time, of time, of time. Damn.
A musician’s musician, a songwriter’s song, a trombonist’s kitchen, a watch’s lost second hand, this is a career moment for someone who has madly acted like he doesn’t have one – this record won’t let you go – it does not have the time.
It is worth every second. Every time.
BEAUTIFUL! The world gets larger, and more joyful , and I’m listening and smiling, laughing at so much surprise and delight. - Kip Hanrahan
As I listen I realize the blues are prayers - pouring through the hole in the empty pocket, the heart.
For those of us who apparently have everything, your songs pour through the slender space between want and necessity. - Priscilla Smith
Hot damn! I will have lived to see another Brian Cullman album released. Life really IS good.
- Peter Holsapple (The dB’s)
Brian Cullman grew up in New York City with a radio glued to his ear and a passport tight in his fist. Over the years, that radio has gotten larger as the world has grown smaller, and he has been a frequent explorer of the world’s hidden musics , from Iran to Senegal, from Morocco to Trinidad, before coming home to THE OPPOSITE OF TIME
There’s a long and tangled history behind the album that belies the ease and naturalness of the music, one that takes in years of bumping into and working with some of the most interesting musicians of the late twentieth and early twenty first century.
“When I was 15, I met Lillian Roxon, author of THE ROCK ENCYCLOPEDIA, and decided to ask if my songs were any good. She said I should play them for her friend Danny Fields, so she dragged me & my crummy guitar down to his house in Chelsea. Danny was the house hippie at Elektra Records, he'd signed The Stooges & The MC5, and he knew everyone. We walked in, and it was dark, there were candles everywhere. Edie Sedgwick was in the corner, in bra & panties, cutting out pictures from Vogue Magazine. Jim Morrison was passed out drunk on the couch. Nico, I was told, was in the bedroom, hiding from Morrison. The phone kept ringing. Once it was Leonard Cohen, looking for Nico. Danny told him to go away.”
A few years on, still in his teens, Brian took a summer job in London and found a more sympathetic audience for his songs.
“I fell into a crowd of musicians in Hampstead who were all broke, but immensely supportive: John & Beverly Martyn, Nick Drake, Sandy Denny, Richard & Linda Thompson. They were excited to find an American who knew their music. John Martyn showed me his percussive style of finger-picking, Sandy Denny brought me along to sing back-up with her on a few sessions, and Nick Drake had me open for him at Cousins, a basement club on Greek Street.”
Brian returned to the States and eventually began working with some of the most inventive players on the scene, including Robert Quine, Mark Knopfler, Syd Straw and Vernon Reid. Giorgio Gomelsky (producer of The Yardbirds) took him in the studio to record a single. His band OK SAVANT was a fixture at CBGB’s and throughout the northeast during the late 80’s and early 90’s, dissolving just as they were signed to a label (don’t you hate it when that happens!)
Cullman continued to his work as a journalist, writing extensively for CREEM, CRAWDADDY, MUSICIAN, ROLLING STONE, THE PARIS REVIEW, SPIN & DETAILS, winning the ASCAP/DEEMS TAYLOR award for excellence in journalism three times..
He produced sessions for Lucinda Williams & Taj Mahal, Ollabelle, and Persian-Indian group Ghazal; collaborating with Youssou N'dour on a record for Senegalese guitar wizard Jimi Mbaye; producing the soundtrack to the documentary GYPSY CARAVAN, and scoring PADRE NUESTRO, winner of the 2008 Sundance Festival.
All of this led to his own recordings.
His 2008 release ALL FIRES THE FIRE (Sunnyside) garnered critical raves like the one below from Frank Gutch, Jr :
I wish I had a wife or a girlfriend. Every time I put this album into the player, I realize that I am not enough. I prefer to think it is a result of the music rather than myself, for there is a humanity in Cullman's music which is truly larger than life. It needs to be shared to be really appreciated. He uses universal themes, themes so simple and so large that you have to almost isolate yourself to even begin to understand--- love, life, fear, loss. All bigger than myself and all somewhat beyond comprehension. They are subjects of a few million other songs, most mundane at best, but which he somehow makes new and fresh. It is the perspective, I guess, and I can't tell if it is his or mine. It doesn't matter, really. I only know that every song on this album strikes home hard.
His new album continues the work he began with ALL FIRES THE FIRE, but pares down the sound, opening the windows to let in as much light and as much air as possible, with most tracks recorded live in the studio to maintain a sense of spontaneity.
Jenni Muldaur is on backing vocals as is Irish chanteuse Leni Morrison (of The Darling Sins), Glenn Patscha (Ollabelle, Sheryl Crow) plays piano and organ, Byron Isaacs (Ollabelle, Levon Helm) plays bass, Aaron Johnston & Didi Gutman from the Brazilian Girls are on drums & keyboards, respectively, Jimi Zhivago (Glen Hansard, Rufus Wainwright, Kim Taylor) plays guitar, and Hector Castillo (David Bowie, Bjork, Lou Reed) engineered and mixed.
“Much of the world’s deepest music comes down to a guitar or two, a voice, a melody and a story, whether it’s Hank Williams or Sufjan Stevens, Caetano Veloso or Skip James. That’s how I approached this album, with respect for the simple power of a few chords and a few well-chosen words. I figured, if I swept the cave and built a fire, the spirits might stop by.”