Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Gabriel Sullivan – By the Dirt

Gabriel Sullivan knows a lot of styles and he’s adept at them. More specifically, his new cd By the Dirt runs through a whole bunch of stylized genres, pretty successfully – the playing is generally good, he’s got a good sense of melody and a feel for vintage Americana styles. Mixed by Craig Schumacher of Calexico and Friends of Dean Martinez renown, Sullivan’s going for a dusky southwestern gothic feel (a concept made clear by the cd cover, the songwriter posed sullenly against a photoshopped backdrop of a battered piano in the sagebrush), although the sound is more straight-up southern in a lot of places.

The album’s opening number reminds of Reid Paley, kind of a stripped-down ghoulabilly blues with banjo and harp. The title track is a swinging, memorable, Waitsh-ish tune: “We all live and die by the dirt,” Sullivan reminds ominously. Track three, the snide, defiant Life Is Fine has Sullivan affirming that “You ain’t never gonna see me die.”

How to Treat a Man reminds of Steve Wynn’s legendary Dream Syndicate with its slide guitar-driven, bluesy stomp. By contrast, Me & the Dog is ghostly, lowlit by some sweetly phosphorescent singing saw work. Of the country songs here, by far the most interesting and original is the metaphor-laden, nocturnal ballad The Gardens, its protagonist aching for some peace. There’s also a clanking noir blues, a Waits-style outlaw ballad and then more and more Waits, it seems – by this point, Sullivan seems to have run out of ideas of his own, and the overlong, pointless guitar solo out of the last number does nothing to change that. In terms of the three stages of artistry – imitation, emulation and originality – Sullivan’s passed the first and has command of the second – and there’s nothing wrong with having the ability to synthesize or move smoothly from one oldtime style to another, as he does effortlessly here. It’ll be interesting to see how his writing develops as he grows as a songwriter. In the meantime, fans of dark Americana rock and all the other retro styles he tackles here will enjoy most of this. Keep your eye on this guy – he knows what he’s doing, even if he could be confused with a whole lot of other people on some of the tracks here.

November 9, 2009 - Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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