Little Big Toe recently released its third installment entitled Is This What You Hear In Your Head? The album was recorded in Edison, NJ in Jimmy James Cutrera’s apartment, and includes 14 tracks, mostly performed by James himself—with a few cameo appearances from friends.
This project was inspired by many personal trials and tribulations, including a soul-sucking job, injuries and many other hellish moments that are best forgotten. The recording process itself was the most effortless of the three LBT releases with a more relaxed, honest and fun recording approach, as opposed to the typical head beating against the wall/over-analyzing/stressful approach. It was a real outlet to escape the drudgeries of everyday life, but also an expression of newfound love and appreciation for friends/family/life.
Cutrera is currently on musical hiatus out in Texas with a new job but plans on starting some more recording when the season is over. Little Big Toe has been featured on WBJB 90.5 the Night, as well Lazlo’s Blow Up Radio and has played throughout the Tri-State Area. Cutrera is a previous Asbury Park Musical Awards nominee for top guitarist and is a migratory Accidental Seabird when back in town.
Produced by Cutrera, the disc was mastered by Anthony Defabritus at AntFARM (studio). Defabritus also played bass and drums on one of the tracks. Cutrera also employed Patrick Calvert, who plays harp on a track, and Steve Honoshowsky on a track for drums. Everything else is performed and produced by Jimmy James Cutrera.
I’ve covered Little Big Toe in the past with the 2014 release of Blind Sober and had great things to say about Cutrera’s fascinating side project. When describing what Jimmy is trying to accomplish, one of the more common traits of the songwriter, no matter what degree of success that they have achieved within their band unit, is to push ahead and show the world what they can do on their own. This trend isn’t a bad thing, or an ego boosting thing, but a form of communication that demonstrates to the public that while the band is active as a unit, the individual writer feels that, in their way, they still have something vital to communicate to the world at large.
And Cutrera has something to say when it comes to compositional directives. Is This What You Hear In Your Head? features 14 songs that showcase an ongoing journey into the world of songwriting. And while Cutrera explains that this recording is more relaxed and organic in nature, it still manages to convey the good, bad and ugly changes that have affected his life over the past couple of years.
The disc starts out with a song called “Bitter, Sweet Or Misguided.” Lonesome electric guitar lays the groundwork here. This song reminds me of something out of the movie Wild At Heart starring Nicolas Cage. Somber, solitary and filled with an isolated anguish, the lone guitar tune is a delightful foray into musical soundscapes. Synthesizers growl in the back end of the song as Cutrera hits harmonics that ring into the end.
“Is This What You Hear In Your Head?” is up next. Cutrera overloads the microphone preamp to get his slightly distorted vocal sound here. Drums, bass and acoustic guitars ramp up to support Cutrera’s clean, bell-like vocal attack. Drum work is courtesy of Steve Honoshowsky. Honoshowsky plays for the song, giving just enough to keep things interesting without overtaking the track and turning it into a Rush song. Cutrera plays all the guitars and offers a style that reminds me of Steely Dan’s Jeff “Skunk” Baxter at times. Compositionally speaking, Cutrera does well here. His middle-eight is an ever-expanding jump into experimental progressive, and his choice of melodic structures is terrific. Guitars scream when needed and then fade back to support the song. This tune is just crazy enough to work for radio without the loss of passion or addition of commercial expectations.
“Afraid To Speak Up” is next. Once again, Cutrera doesn’t disappoint when it comes to composing great music. Verses, bridges, and choruses all make great sense and are delivered with an almost country rock feel mixed with alternative vibes of the ’90s. Once again Cutrera handles all the instrumentation on the track including guitar, bass, and drums. At around 2:56 Cutrera unleashes a harmonized guitar lead that kicks the song into high gear and makes it shine nova bright. Lyrically speaking, Cutrera gets his point across without spelling everything out in typical pop language. When it comes to tempo and pace, his words are deadly when combined with the music. One of my favorite tracks so far.
“Unlightened” features the harp work of Patrick Calvert. Cutrera takes things down a notch on “Unlightened.” Guitars, bass, and drums stagger to a whisper as Cutrera croons poetic imagery across the song’s soundscape. Melodic guitars clash against harp riffs and harmonic embellishments to create an interwoven mesh of joyful musical communication. Calvert’s contribution works extremely well with Cutrera’s six-string skill. Calvert’s harp sounds very much like a fingerpicked guitar working with Cutrera in the song. Somber and beautiful, “Unlightened” is filled with a bright and immaculate presence that sits entirely within the disc’s lineup.
Moving around the disc, I came to a song called “You Didn’t Learn Your Lesson.” Cutrera utilizes his skill of melodic building to produce a wonderful piece of music. Chord choices mix with catchy guitar riffs and vocal accompaniment. This composition is raw and beautiful music that sounds like no one I’ve heard in quite some time. Vocal harmonies glide alongside bass, drums, and guitar to create a huge and likable song that has heart and passion. Synthesizers bounce into the end, melding with guitars to create a carnival-like atmosphere of maddening glee and tragedy.
Another fantastic song is “Sigmund Freud.” Bar chords mix with drums and bass as Cutrera sings harmony with himself. The sounds on this song as with the rest of the record may be recorded at home studios, but it has the most organic, warm resonance I’ve heard all year. Choruses show Cutrera’s vocals breaking up to the point of overloading the preamps, and it sounds awesome. Tube-fueled guitars are grungy and dark, which fits the bill on this cleverly crafted piece of music. Compositionally speaking, Cutrera scores high with this dirty little gem. Cutrera winds up and lets go at around 2:50, singing his heart and soul into the tune.
One other song I wanted to mention is “Walking Corpse.” The song features Anthony Defabritus on bass and drums. Cutrera gets philosophical on this song, culling our life experience and mistakes as a society into a few minutes of a magical composition. Defabritus does an excellent job backing Cutrera and plays for the song. Electric guitars jangle and snarl under Cutrera’s able ministrations. Another wonderful song that I enjoyed.
Jimmy James Cutrera may have had a rough personal life over the past couple of years, but his music never suffers. And even though I didn’t have the space to cover the entire disc, I did listen to everything and loved what I heard. Whatever Cutrera’s next move is, I know that he’ll do fine if he keeps churning out the quality of songs that he has done here on Is This What You Hear In Your Head?
If you have a second, go over to littlebigtoe.bandcamp.com and take a listen for yourself. I know you’ll agree that Mr. Cutrera has a winner on his hands.