Brian Cullman

"Brian Cullman is that rarest of singer-song-writer-instrumentalist-composers -an artist whose intelligence doesn't overwhelm his humanity; an artist whose sensitivity doesn't  undercut the fierce mind at work. Cullman knows the star stuff that we're made of; our nobility, and our treachery, the way we deceive ourselves -- how our greatest loves go unrequited, the funny way our tears turn into laughter -- and back again."

Vernon Reid

Brian Cullman grew up in New York City with a radio glued to his ear and a passport tight in his fist. Over the years, that radio has gotten larger as the world has grown smaller, and he has been a frequent explorer of the world’s hidden musics, from Iran to Senegal, from Morocco to Trinidad, before coming home to the sounds of All Fires the Fire.
“I started an album 8 or 9 years ago down in New Orleans, but never quite finished it. I got derailed by the various etceteras of life. Then, sometime in 2007, a friend who’d been a label executive called and said he’d been listening to tapes of the New Orleans’ sessions and wanted to release them. I was flattered, but it felt like old news. I got together with my friends from the band Ollabelle, and a sound started to take shape. I hadn’t been writing much, but new songs kept appearing, I’d stretch out my hand and they’d pull over, like a taxi. Once we got into the studio, we recorded as live as possible, just kept everything tied to the story and the feeling.”
All Fires the Fire captures the freshness of that spirit coupled with a sense of sweet release and homecoming. The music is both cosmopolitan and primal, from the Salvation Army band coda of “Sweet Companion” and the dark gospel of Somebody “Calling My Name,” to the casually brutal samba, “The Promise.”
There’s a long and tangled history behind the album that belies the ease and naturalness of the music, one that takes in years of bumping into and working with some of the most visionary musicians of the late twentieth century.
 “When I was 15, 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 & my crummy guitar down to his house in Chelsea. Danny was the house hippie at Elektra Records, he'd signed The Stooges & 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 & 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, Brian 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 & 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.”
Brian 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. But Cullman soon slipped away from performing and began working full time as a journalist, writing extensively for Creem, Musician, Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, Spin and Details, winning the ASCAP/Deems Taylor award for excellence in journalism three times.
 His return to music was behind the scenes. He began producing sessions for friends, producing Lucinda Williams, Sussan Deyhim and Persian-Indian group Ghazal; collaborating with Youssou N'dour on a record for Senegalese guitar wizard Jimi Mbaye; producing the soundtrack to the 2007 documentary Gypsy Caravan and scoring Chris Zalla’s Padre Nuestro, winner of the 2007 Sundance Festival before finally returning to his own songs and his own album.
            “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, 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.”

 

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