HERE COMES A REGULAR Cutler at the Liberty Elm Diner.
An army of NewPaper and Phoenix staffers have written about Mark Cutler's various projects over the last three decades. With the release of his excellent new disc, we decided to get an objective take from our guest contributor from Philadelphia, a co-founder of the blog Teenage Kicks (teenkicks.blogspot.com).
Until a Rhode Island pal nudged (shoved!) me in the general direction by getting me hooked on the legendary rock band the Schemers, I thought I had never heard of Mark Cutler. But little did I know he was the driving force behind the Raindogs, whose two major label albums on Atco were constant companions in my early Americana love affair, setting the stage for dalliances with Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown, Old 97's, and a hundred other much-loved bands.
What constitutes success? Is it playing sold out shows in your hometown and touring far and wide? Getting signed to a major label? Making uniformly excellent records for more than 30 years? Selling a million albums? Crafting indelible, muscular rock songs loaded with pathos and a little bluster? Not giving up, simply soldiering on? I'd say all the above can validate a career, and all but one applies to Mark Cutler. I know I'm late to the party, but every time I stumble upon another new (to me) Cutler disc, there are a dozen gems waiting to be discovered.
Maybe someday soon Jack White or Ryan Adams will discover the Schemers and curate a deluxe reissue of their impossible-to-find career-retrospective release Remember, but for now you'll have to be content with the knowledge that hard-to-believe-you-never-heard-them-before-because-they're-so-good songs exist — like "The Hideaway," a souped-up companion piece to the Replacements' "Here Comes a Regular," which Westerberg would be proud to call his own. It's that good.
Released this week on 75orLess Records, Cutler's Sweet Pain is an understated stunner. Combining the subtle urgency of Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever and the weathered grace of Alejandro Escovedo, the album's charms unfold slowly and reward repeated spins. "Salvation Cruise" kicks things off with a fat, fuzzed-out guitar riff and heavy-duty organ and piano recalling electric Dylan, and sets the tone for this lyrically downbeat album. But if feeling bad sounds good, the second song, "Waste Some Time," offers a shoulder to lean on, or possibly it's just an entreaty to listeners to spend ("waste") some time with Sweet Pain.
"Shame On You" is a ragged acoustic shuffle that would have fit right in between "Factory Girl" and "Salt of the Earth" on Beggars Banquet — and that's as much a compliment to the Stones as it is to Cutler. "Heart of Stone" and "Bottom of the Bottle" burst with smart pop hooks that most songwriters would kill for. And a couple of Sweet Pain's standouts — "Walking In the Night" and "Lonesome Pain" — are strong new updates of old favorites by the Schemers and Raindogs, respectively. The Men of Great Courage — Jimmy Berger (bass), Rick Couto (drums), Bob Kirkman (banjo/guitar/mandolin), and Richard Reed (keyboards) — are raucous and restrained, providing the perfect setting throughout (the disc was produced by Emerson Torrey, Jack Gauthier, and MC).