I woke up to a random e-mail a couple of weeks ago from Cullah inviting me to his show here in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, my calendar has been insane with shows and I couldn’t make it out but I did offer to review his 13th album “Spectacullah” since I couldn’t make it to the show. Without delay, the album appeared in my mailbox just days later but my grueling schedule has me falling a bit behind when it comes to album reviews. I finally had a chance to sit down and listen to it this morning and within the first song I was super bummed I couldn’t catch this Milwaukee musician live.
“Spectacullah Vernacullah” kicks the album off with a sample I didn’t recognize (probably from a movie) and instantly drew me in. When the vocals came in I was absolutely stuck. Stuck for words, stuck in my seat, stuck in the moment. I instantly recognized that this album would be so much more than just another album. The vocals had this almost indie rock vibe to it and a raspy tone that just can’t be described in words but there were hip-hop, jazzy, and bluesy notes underneath it all. Honestly, I don’t even know how to describe it… all I knew by the time the album rolled into “I Don’t Mind It” was that I was intrigued and super excited to see what was to come.
An infectious walking bass line sets the tone for “I Don’t Mind It”. Cullah’s crystal clear vocals mixed with a chorus full of “Fa la la’s” instantly had me moving in my seat and within no time I found myself moving around my apartment. Energizing but not in your face, there are elements of a bit of everything in this track. From jazzy horns to choir-like gang vocals and an understated drum beat, I was almost bummed when the three minute song came to an end and flowed into “Turn Tail and Run”. Thankfully, the uniqueness didn’t stop and “Turn Tail and Run” pulled me in deeper to this album and this artist. Keeping with a calm tempo, the drums pick up in this song and create a driving beat underneath Cullah’s voice which seems to have taken a more sensitive turn for this track. Brilliantly mixed by Mike Noyce, I loved the way that throughout this song each instrument and vocal part was given a chance to shine while Cullah’s voice stayed consistently strong and in the foreground. With a minute left in this track, Cullah’s voice takes a turn into one of the most amazing things I have ever heard. I honestly don’t even know how to describe it. A little R&B, a little rap, a whole lot of soul… honestly the only thought in my mind when listening to this track for the eighth time over was, “How in the fuck am I supposed to use words to describe this album’s brilliance!?”
The title of the next track says it all, “I Want You To Be Kind To Yourself”. Kicking off with an intricate guitar lick, this song feels more indie rock than anything else. With a low reverb on the vocals and then beautiful strings in the background, this song definitely comes out of left field but in the best way possible. The strings give it an old-timey feel to it but the lyrics about self love and just being good to yourself are more than timely to this day and age. There’s something so simple yet so powerful about this song that, again, there are just no words to describe it.
“Love You Gotta Be” wastes no time going back into the energetic nature that the first couple of tracks laid out. With a oom-pa-pa pattern, I may or may not have grabbed my cat Artemis and danced around with him until he turned to bite me. This song comes in waves and the oom-pa-pa pattern is replaced by a slow and steady sliding vibe before going back into the infectious beat. Cullah’s voice matches that style in the most perfect way.
The sensitivity laid out in “I Want You To Be Kind To Yourself” comes back to the foreground as the album moves into “Conduct”. The introduction for this song shows off Cullah’s vocal talent as he goes up octaves for an impressive high note that, although shouldn’t be easy for him to hit, seems flawless and effortless. Just when you think this is going to be a bit of a somber track, the drums kick in and make this a dance number. Infectious beats are clearly the name of the game when it comes to this album and Cullah nails that on this track. Lyrically this album is on point but there’s a line in this song that had me absolutely in love. “It doesn’t mean you’re weak, you just want to cry, cry, cry… It means that you’re human and wondering why, why, why.” Try not to fall in love with that line… I dare you.
“Bow” starts off with an 80’s dance party vibe but that is quickly replaced by Cullah’s unique style. This track has a bit of a darker vibe to it but the beat is bright and fun-loving. More hip-hop influenced than the rest of the album, I adore how, although almost done with the album, Cullah is not done with the surprises. Repetitive and infectious, my cats new better than to be near my because this would be the perfect song to dance around the apartment with them in tow… they hid under my bed.
At under two minutes, “White Crow Flies” is the shortest track on this nine song album but also one of my favorites. Clearly folk influenced, again Cullah doesn’t let the album wrapping up stop him from giving the listening something completely new. My only complaint with this song would be length. He does this folk sound so well that I could honestly listen to a whole album of this and not be bored. The banjo, his twangy vocals, a shaker… just pure perfection that should last a whole lot longer than a minute and fifty-seven seconds.
“I Ceased To Be” closes out this impressive album on a high but different note. Taking that folk vibe that came out in “White Crow Flies” and slowing it down to almost a bluesy country sound, it’s the type of song that doesn’t answer any of the questions I have about Cullah or his music but had me still stuck in my seat with my ears glued to my speakers.
I’m the type of person that can go from listening to Slipknot to Mumford & Sons and then landing on Judah & The Lion in the span of just minutes. This album is truly the perfect album for someone like me. So many different elements mashed into one album but in the most perfect way and giving each song a different vibe. I regret not dropping everything to go to Cullah’s show a couple of weeks ago but after listening to this album, I will certainly drop nearly anything to catch him live.
How Badly I Want To See This Performed Live: 10.5 out of 10
My Overall Rating: 5 out of 5
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