From the opening tremolo’d clang of “Salvation Cruise,” a raucous kickstarter of a song that opens Mark Cutler’s latest release, Sweet Pain, the bar is set high for an album of dirty, murky garage blues, and the record doesn’t disappoint. “I drink some whiskey, I drink some wine/I get along fine,” is a lyric as convincing as any I’ve ever heard. Cutler has raw, simple and powerful songwriting chops, and it’s a pretty sweet kiss-off to any critics looking to delve too deeply into a record deserving appreciation for its physical, visceral thrill.
The album takes many detours down avenues of country and blues while Cutler’s vocal presence remains along the lines of a wounded Tom Petty with some Iggy Pop thuggishness thrown in. On “Nothing Left to Do,” a beautiful violin, pedal steel and acoustic guitars belie a scathing tale of devious manipulation, while on “Dirty Town” he claims to “settle down, in a dirty town,” but from the restlessness of his voice, one guesses that there’s not much settling down happening at all. “I think that I’ve probably been gravitating toward similar themes for my whole life,” Cutler says. “Themes such as sinning, redemption, love, hate, death, small town ennui, betrayal, friendship, family, small pleasures and little pieces of grace. I seem to revisit those themes a lot.”
Throughout the record, some stellar musicians support Cutler. Making up his band, The Men of Great Courage, are old friends Jimmy Berger on bass and Richard Reed on keyboards, both of whom were members of The Schemers, the influential hard rock band that Cutler founded in the early 1980s. When asked if being a veteran of the local music scene has any bearing on his creative output, Cutler is humble. “I try not to let that have an effect in a way that will make me inhibited or self-conscious,” he says. “Sometimes it seems real easy to write songs, the spigot is turned on and the ideas flow. Sometimes it’s not so easy, but I do find that if I treat it as a discipline and work on it for a few days in a row, songs start to come around. I call it setting the table for the muse.”
On some of his proudest achievements, Mark Cutler has the grace to casually toss off a few of the most impressive names in music. “I’ve been lucky to tour with folks such as Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon, The Waterboys and bunch of other bands,” he says, “I got to record with Iggy Pop and Harry Dean Stanton and hang out with him at his house and watch a Lakers game. I’m pretty happy that I got to share the stage with Bo Diddley and Jerry Lee Lewis and the Dead Kennedys... that’s pretty cool.”
Sweet Pain is now available through 75 Or Less Records.