Brian Cullman | New Year's Eve
Brian Cullman’s got the Christmas blues but not of the type you might assume. As recounted in the press release accompanying his seasonal single “New Year’s Eve” (its full title, parenthetically giving away the game a bit: “I’m just a New Year’s Adam looking for a…”), the long-time music journalist and even longer-time musician, early in the course of his adventurous, peripatetic life – greater details of which backdropped SEM’s review of his February 2016 album The Opposite of Time – fetched up on an idyllic if primitive island in the Mediterranean where stray dogs and native wildlife came out to haunt the unelectrified night and where Cullman would spend his first Noël outside the warm bosom of his natal family. During that peculiar time, feeling, as he says, “both liberated and homesick,” he’d venture out nearly every night in hopes of capturing the sea-foamed music of the spheres, the melodies of timelessness made by the universe itself in all its gracious infinitude. Instead, to his utmost post-adolescent chagrin, whatever degree of mystic reception he might have enjoyed was blocked from every direction by the needling persistence of his childhood’s holiday soundtrack, “Silver Bells” and “Little Drummer Boy” and all their saccharine, begrudgingly internalized ilk. There was no escaping those seductive ditties, they filled his ears like clouds of humming, nostalgia-fed gnats and ever since then the subliminal tsunami of Christmas music that infiltrates our every waking moment come the Yuletide has been viewed by Brian Cullman as an insidious scourge. Whatever your take on the canon of old chestnuts – something of a soft spot for them myself but I am, indeed, a hopeless softie – it’s not difficult to see his point, and to, furthermore, fully understand his need to push back against this Burl Ive’d tide by penning his own festive singalong, one that’s just as catchy but a touch more libidinous.
Riding a slouchy, shuffle-blues beat and some fat, Supertramp-friendly electric piano (courtesy Glenn Patische, who’ll also provide the Professor Longhaired straight ivory piano meddlin’ instrumental break down the road a piece), “New Year’s Eve” is that warmly intoxicating blend of the lascivious and the collegially charming, maintaining its tipsy balance by skimming the surface of raunchy innuendo while upholding its winking gentleman’s demeanor (there is, after all, a tradition of etiquette to be observed here). The key may be the buried subliminal honk of that saxophone – Joihn Ellis – or it might just be Jimi Zhivago’s unobtrusive guitar chops and equally surreptitious production supporting a Cullman delivery pitched neatly between droll and duplicitous (there’s always a tone of desperation to a wooing man’s logic, isn’t there?), but the end result is a cheery entry to the catalog of adult holiday songs that has us imagining that this may have been how the night begins for that guy singing “Baby it’s cold outside,” which is exactly the (bell) ringing endorsement it seems.
But wait, there’s more! This tidy little stocking-stuffer EP also comes with a stomping, CBGB’s-recorded live track of Cullman’s 80’s band OK Savant featuring Vernon Reid’s prowling coil of guitar, a lovely lamenting blues ballad called “Minor Love” that’s actually “Bye Bye Love” taken over the nihilistic romantic cliff it was always headed for (with the Patti Smith Band’s Jay Daugherty on drums and a blistering outro solo by Sid McGinnis), and “I Know,” a lovelorn, pop-worn nugget which, aside from being the quintessential B-side, is also essentially a Leslie Winston-as-song-architect showcase as she provides the keys, added guitar, and all the programming.
So, in all, a brief but quite sure-footed diversion, a perfect just-the-thing antidote to this hectic – and, this year, particularly fraught – holiday season.