One of the more common traits of the songwriter, no matter what degree of success 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 thing, but a form of communication that demonstrates to the public that while the band is strong as a unit, the individual writer feels that, in their way, they still have something vital to communicate to the world at large.
This is the case of Jimmy Cutrera. Cutrera is the cornerstone of popular indie-psyche folk favorites, Accidental Seabirds. The band has been covered here, as well as nationwide, and continues to grow musically and geographically, leaving impressions on longtime music lovers and musicians alike. But Cutrera is a restless composer, a writer that moves like a shark, never stopping as he pens song after intricate song on his journey to the next musical trading post.
Cutrera’s latest release is called Blind Sober, and it follows the 2013 release of Coin Toss Timelines, which featured several area musicians at the top of their proverbial game. But the restlessness of Cutrera has taken his next project back to a more controlled situation. This is a situation where the writer has stepped up and manned the core responsibilities for creating his brand of music. Jimmy has become a one-man band for Blind Sober, recording all of the guitars as well as vocals, keys and percussion.
He was even motivated enough to learn the drums and lay them down on this CD. If that wasn’t enough, when it came to the recording process, Cutrera decided to bypass scheduling conflicts of local console commanders by manning the engineering portion for this record. This choice had resulted in a more laid-back approach, allowing Cutrera to bring in guests to perform when needed, while also allowing the perspective of a producer when it came to building compositional sections.
With over 18 songs, Blind Sober takes the listener on an interesting tour of subjects ranging from the complications of relationships to the spiritual transformations and anxieties honed from the intimate confessions of self-expression.
The disc rolls smoothly with “A Blind Man’s Words Are A Sober Man’s Thoughts.” Shuffled drum work gently pushes melodic, chimey guitars head first into rolling bass work. The ambience of this piece floats into the stratospheric bliss of groups such as This Will Destroy You.
“2,834” is Cutrera’s ode to broken love. Utilizing a three-four rhythmic verse, “2,834” waltzes amid intricate chord changes, instrumental time splashes and succinct bridge transfers. Lyrical wordplay dances from start to finish as Cutrera sums up with the line, “I can taste the sun around your tongue, you’re the ‘I’ in the vitamin.”
Saxophonist Andrew Demos steps up on “Pulled Hamstring.” Cutrera demonstrates skill at the open and airy art of less is more. Nothing is wasted here as Jimmy C hits perfect, ethereal harmonies underneath countermeasures of rhythmic splendor. Featuring the enviable vocal abilities of a true talent that most would give their left eye for, Cutrera is an easy and gracious admiral when it comes to steering his musical ship into the lane he chooses.
“Bodies Exhibit” features one of my favorite choruses on the disc. Utilizing a combination of lush harmony, open-voiced chord work and an affable knowledge of driving the song to the next level, Cutrera tells the tale of societal stalemate. This is a memorable piece that hails expressions of regret and the superficial repetition that festers within us all. Cutrera uses this tune to remove that obstacle, just as a doctor removes a bullet from the chest. James Herdman slips in on violin, reminding me of Larry Campbell and his Levon Helm/Bob Dylan work.
“Build A Boat” is yet another strong contender in the category of unforgettable. Cutrera’s chorus power is an emotional heartstring puller as he strategically pushes the elevator button to your soul. “Build A Boat” climbs and descends through crescendos of gale-forced lyrical matter. The fight to remain vital, to pull out of the conformist corner and survive the psychological phenomena pushes Cutrera’s thematic prose into his rebellious finale, and leaves him on course to the destination of salvation. I enjoyed the guitar work here as well. Cutrera blends clean, bottom tenacity with soaring, open-voice pentatonics along the lines of Matt Brooke (Band Of Horses, Grand Archives) and it’s the linchpin of his sound.
Moving around, I stopped on the sophisticated “Ahem.” This is an acoustic chaperoned journey that swerves onto the blacktop lanes of old Alice Cooper or The Yardbirds. Seriously, the music is not specifically the same, but Cutrera’s old soul delivery beams reminiscent tones of the dark and glittering ’60s. Another reason that this song pops is that it includes the able assist of Mike Noordzy on contro alto clarinet. Leave it to Noordzy to show up everyone in picking the most eclectic instrument in the state, but he means business here and he meticulously slips it into the verses like a shiv in the ribs.
“Having Your Cake” is another top pick for me. Cutrera’s Accidental Seabirds roots come close to the surface here, and I appreciate the atmospheric, upstate New York soul that emanates from its branches. As I listen, I can’t help but think how tremendous it would be to see him perform at one of the rambles still going on at Levon Helm’s place. His easy style of back porch alt-country flows like a leaf in a rain-fueled torrent as vocals race in seamless, melodic syncopation.
“Density Of A Glass” pours unadulterated measurements of trickling time, overflowing occurrence and the gray, flowering splashes of confessional wisdom. When it comes to drums, once again Cutrera has a very interesting style, and it doesn’t follow the typical snare smacking characters that I’ve come to know. It’s as if he has figured out a way around the conventional rhythm, generating his beat from the interactions of six-string patterns that drop like so many bread crumbs, weaving balanced, resourceful templates based on the opposite of what’s expected.
“I Hate Everyone; I Love Everybody” is another example of Cutrera’s extraordinary affinity for offbeat rhythmic composition. If you’re looking for some carnal, Red Bull dance beat soiree, Cutrera probably isn’t your guy. If you’re looking for an exuberance of organic and legitimate fulfillment, Blind Sober is an expansive medication for the passionate soul.
The entire record shows that he has a grip on the necessities of a producer, and he doesn’t fill his tracks with self-conscience pianos, organs, harmonicas or other Jersey Shore claptrap. I immediately associate Cutrera’s blazing lyrical statement with much of the present day music scene’s “Tower Of Babel” dysfunction. I especially love the line, “In this knife fight, it looks like you’re outnumbered. But the hand upon your shoulder looks extremely familiar.” Matt Lupo sneaks in and adds his vigilant horn presence to the mix.
The Iron And Wine meet The Decemberists sensibilities of “Sunrise Mountain Transformation” rises into the layers of the disc, languishing in acoustic-based world-weariness. Electric guitars cut and soar with 1970s warmth, as does drum and bass tracks. Cutrera harmonizes in tandem with himself as only he can. Usually, when it comes to self-harmonizing, I can tell the similarities, and it dampens my overall enthusiasm of descriptive power. Cutrera’s take must include that same belief because you don’t hear the usual seamless perfection. What you hear sounds like two individual singers reaching for their parts in a live setting, and that’s why this works so well. This is another top pick for me.
Blind Sober is a pragmatic statement from an extremely talented artist who embraces the ebb and flow of everything that makes up compositional evolution. The dogged trek of societal demise and the never-ending movement of life from his perspective make Blind Sober an extremely visible release.
For more information on Little Big Toe and the rest of Blind Sober, visit James Cutrera over at facebook.com/littlebigtoemusic.