What has happened to Paul Curreri? Last time I looked (at his gig at London’s Luminaire, to be precise) he was singing sharp,piquant acoustic numbers, a flag bearer for the New Americana. But on Mantra, the opening track of The Velvet Rut, he has turnedall dirty Delta blues.
But by God it sounds good. Kicking off with asmokers cough and edgy drumming, the song sounds nastier than aMemphis night on bad bootleg. Then again, should I be surprised thatthe Charlottesville singer has that darkness inside him? He is KellyJoe Phelps’s prot�g� after all.
Fans of Curreri’s more usual softer style should not be tooworried though. Despite the promise of something completely differentin the opening track, much of The Velvet Rut builds on that for whichhe has a deserved reputation: accomplished musicianship (he plays allthe instruments and supplies all vocals); and songwriting that pushesAmericana well beyond the reach of the many bland singer-songwritersflooding the UK at the moment.
Of the Phelps’ influenced tracks Loretta stands out thanks toCurreri’s vocal, delivered with the yearning of a lusty teenagerunable to get his hands on the goods.
Teenage hormones and bluesy guitars may be on The Velvet Rut, theyare not what make it worth listening to. What makes the album worthbuying is the songwriting. Curreri’s lyrics are feats of imaginationin a music sector drowned out by the sound of insipid love songsdelivered with all the originality of a Simon Cowell act.
Where else but on a Curreri album could you veer from a wonderfulstory of an angel climbing from a bath and causing a natural disasteras their wing hits the window (The Ugly Angel) through Patti Smithbeing told to “kiss my ass and die/If you can’t make beautiful makenice” in a song about faith and friendship (Keep Your Master’s VoiceIn Your Mouth) to a lazy dream-stealer (Fat Killer At Dawn)?
Curreri produced The Velvet Rut, and has given it an experimental,layered feel. This works best on The Wasp. Sounding like it wasrecorded in the bathroom, its off beat clapping percussion would notbe out of place in a Devendra Banhart set. Why I Turned My Light Offand Freestylin’ Crost The Pond bring the album to a moreconventional, intimate end, which highlights my only criticism of thealbum.
I wanted more dirty Delta and less reflective, late night bar. Thelack of it left me wondering whether the sheer shock of sparking upon such a sharply contrasting note had shocked Curreri as much as itwill his fans.
Still, as criticisms go, it is a minor one, and Curreri remainsone of the most innovative interesting and under-appreciatedsongwriters working today.