Heath Cullen has been a long-time sideman to a wide range of artists. A guitarist who has graced releases on the Vitamin label (Lucie Thorn, Tobias Hengeveld, Jackie Marshall etc.) and has deservedly gotten rapturous praise for his work. Handing most vocal duties over to bassist Robyn Martin is a smart move, their voices mesh warmly, especially on the opening Woke With The Birds.
Elsewhere the album threatens to be overtaken by his Springsteen or Ryan Adams-esque adoration of clipped American English, a habit that can be as evocative as it can be derivative. Typically, Cullen gets away with it as the music meshes so loosely and well; slack rhythms, valve crunch and blazing organ almost demand a shiftless vocal delivery. It’s hard to think an impassioned vocalist from the northern NSW coast, Cullen’s homeland, and it’s possibly this infusion of easygoing soul into his music that some will dismissively label as ‘summer surf music’ and others will find a balm. What isn’t in dispute though is the authority with which Cullen tackles these songs, sounding all the world as if this was is tenth not his first release. Your Love Is The Sea stretches into a swelling mass of Crazy Horse intensity that is done beautifully. Kathleen is a plaintive ode to leaving town and finding ‘another small town that kinda feels like home / Find a caravan park where I can be alone,’ and is made for driving rainy desolate roads at nighttime, the sort of mood he evoked so well on his labelmate Lucie Thorne’s album Black Across The Field.
A jaunty and unnecessary instrumental aside, the overwhelming mood of this album is one of languid Southern Rock from a contemplative and articulate man who clearly connects with the direct and unpretentious nature of the genre. Kitchen Song epitomises this beautifully, as does the closing Here Above The Dirt and all songs feature is classy but never busy guitar work, a feature that lifts him above the thickly wooded forest of singer-songwriters. Expect Cullen and the 45 at a festival near you soon, they’ll own that Sunday afternoon slot.