Any music lover knows that a singing voice doesn’t need to be sweet or sad to convey emotion. In fact, some of the most emotive vocalists can barely be called singers. Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen come to mind as throwers of lyrical punches delivered by means of lilting or growled spoken word more than singsong. One singer who straddles the line is Nick Cave. A lesser-known Aussie whose vocal stylings fall into this category is Michael P. Cullen. Cullen’s voice is appropriately described as sandpaper dipped in honey. It has gravel but it’s full of soul.
He has been releasing albums since 2012, but his latest EP, Live at Lazybones, captures Cullen and his tailor-fitted band, the Soul Searchers in their element. Stabbing guitars and hard-hitting drums blend with semi-sweet background vocals and gentle piano and organ. Cullen’s hardboiled lyrics and punk rock delivery are the centerpoint of this five song EP. Opening track, Black Dog, has Cullen name dropping Leonard Cohen asking him the question “How lonely does it get?” The eventual stinging punchline is that he hasn’t answered yet. It’s biting witticisms like this that make these songs so gripping. The angular Believer continues the tales of bad love. Cullen channels his best sad sack who walked streets of gold, but lost everything he had. The song is a stunner.
As an EP, this is a great document of a drum-tight band backing a Chandleresque troubadour. Michael P. Cullen is at the axis of many moods and genres. He’s a singular artist who can’t easily be described in words despite his skill in weaving them.
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