The first thing that you notice about Michael Cullen is his rich baritone. He wastes little time unleashing it on his second album, True Believer. Eight seconds into the opening track, “Black Dog,” his deep voice sings “I was wearing, my Sunday suit..” and proceeds to straddle the rail between talking and singing, leaning mostly toward the latter.
His voice isn’t Milan Fras (from Slovenian band Laibach) deep, but he can sure it those low notes. That doesn’t keep him from creating a few peppy numbers though. “Cha Cha D’Amour,” for example, is sung over strumming guitars and is surprisingly catchy.
Cullen, an Australian, brings a unique quality to his sound by favoring old acoustic guitars, tape machines, and other analog equipment. Yet, the production never sounds muddy. The variety of sounds is pretty cool as well.
“I Walk Alone” is built on a ‘60s-era electric organ and actually finds Cullen’s voice reaching up into the higher registers (for him), blended with his normal baritone. Similarly, “Nothing Special” has him sounding like a tenor. The piano adds some nice flavor, as does the organ. The horn bit at the end evokes a surprise visit from Motown.
Where some singer/songwriters can bring out their pop aspirations, that doesn’t seem to be Cullen’s focus. In fact, he gets decidedly dark on “Damaged,” and while he comes up with a bit of hook, perhaps by accident, it’s the best of example of the man putting art before commerce. Whether that’s enough to build a solid fan base remains to be seen. His first album, Love Transmitter, found an audience, and this likely will too. Just don’t expect to hear it on your local chart radio station.
7 Stars out of 10
PF Wilson has been writing about music, TV, radio, and movies for over 20 years. He has also written about sports, business, and politics with his work appearing in Cincinnati CityBeat, The Houston Press, Cleveland Scene, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine, Atomic Ranch, and many more. Check out his podcast PF’s Tape Recorder available from Podbean or in iTunes.