A remarkable new album has been released this season by Brian Cullman. “All Fires The Fire” – out on Sunnyside Records in the US and through affiliates elsewhere – is Cullman’s debut as a featured artist.
We believe you'll be as persuaded as I am by Cullman's way with Cohenian irony, Moustakian breeziness, Drakean gravitas, and the envelope of richly-textured chamber rock which holds it all together.
As some of you will know, Cullman has traveled in a wide variety of music circles. At once the quintessential (tenth-generation) New Yorker and the enthused global citizen, Cullman is known as a musician, producer, composer, critic, and story-teller. If Joseph Mitchell were alive today, Cullman would find himself starring in one of his stories.
Prior to his own “All Fires The Fire”, Cullman’s production credits read like a guide to Downtown New York via London, Senegal, and Morocco. Among them are Lucinda Williams (“Goin’ Back Home”, with Taj Mahal), Ghazal's “Lost Songs of The Silk Road,” Jimi Mbaye's “Dakar Heart” (co-produced with Youssou Ndour), Sussan Deyhim and Richard Horowitz's “Majoun,” and Andrew Sterman's “The Path To Peace” .
Applying his talents to film music, Cullman produced the soundtrack to the 2007 documentary “Gypsy Caravan” and scored Chris Zalla’s “Padre Nuestro”, winner of the Jury Prize at the 2007 Sundance Festival.
Cullman has of course written for Antaeus, Creem, Details, Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, Spin, The Village Voice, and Vogue, among others.
There’s a long and tangled history behind “All Fires The Fire” that belies the ease and naturalness of the music, one that takes in years of intimacy with some of the most visionary musicians of the late twentieth century. “When I was 15,” Cullman recounts, “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 and my crummy guitar down to his house in Chelsea. Danny was the house hippie at Elektra Records, he'd signed The Stooges and The MC5, and he knew everyone. We walked in, and it was dark, there were candles everywhere. Edie Sedgwick, Danny’s roommate, was in the corner, in her bra and 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. For all I knew, The Beatles were in the kitchen, fixing a snack. That was my introduction to the music business.”
A few years on, still in his teens, Cullman took a summer job in London and found a more sympathetic audience for his songs, one that has proved a lasting connection and inspiration.
“I fell into a crowd of musicians in Hampstead who were all broke, but immensely supportive: John and Beverly Martyn, Nick Drake, Sandy Denny. 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.”
Cullman returned to the States and eventually began working with some of the most inventive players on the scene, including Robert Quine, Syd Straw, and Vernon Reid – as well as Barry Reynolds, and Glenn Patscha who each play special roles in “All Fires The Fire”.
“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 Van Morrison, Caetano Veloso or Manno Charlemagne. That’s how I approached this album,” Cullman says, “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.”
A schedule of live performances will be announced by Sunnyside Records soon.