|Musical Style: Rock||Produced By: Michael Cutting|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2017||Artist Website: Michael Cutting|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 53:29|
To put guitarist Michael Cutting’s independent January of 2017 debut solo album Unspoken in perspective, please leap back a little over a quarter of a century. The late eighties to early nineties were a time when the hard music scene was never more prolific, at least when factoring the plethora of ‘white metal’ bands that literally came out of the woodwork subsequent to the commercial success of Stryper. Barren Cross, Bloodgood, Bride, Deliverance, Guardian, Leviticus, Messiah Prophet, Neon Cross, Rage Of Angels, Sacred Warrior, Saint, Shout, Tempest, Trytan, Whitecross and Zion - just to name a few - all put out one or more albums during the period in question. The unsigned scene proved every bit vibrant in light of the many independent acts to have released critically acclaimed demo material but ultimately failed to land a label deal: Soldier, Apostle, Paradox, Crossforce, Armada, Taker, Paragon and Revelation (again, just to name a few). In other words, a lot of talent ended up on the cutting room floor!
One band that deserves mention with the above referenced is Holy Soldier. Arising out of the mid-eighties Los Angeles club circuit, Holy Soldier came together when founding member’s bassist Andy Robbins and guitarist Jamie Cramer joined forces with drummer Pete Kerney, guitarist Larry Farkus and vocalist Robbie Braunz. Kerney left the group eight months into its inception only to be supplanted by Terry Russell, whom was joined by guitarist Michael Cutting following the departure of Farkus six months later. Cutting went on to participate on the 1990 Holy Soldier Myrrh Records self-titled debut - which featured newcomer Stephen Patrick on lead vocals - in addition to its 1995 ForeFront Records third album Promise Man and 1997 Spaceport Records live swan song effort Encore. Scott Soderstrom replaced Cutting for the Holy Soldier sophomore album Last Train from 1992.
Following the demise of Holy Soldier in the late nineties, Cutting lent his abilities to numerous projects, including a Pink Floyd tribute band, Pink Floyd Revival, co-writing and performing on two albums with Death And Taxed and contributing lead guitar to the 2008 solo album of David Bentz, Reclaimed. In between all this, the artist spent the past five years at work on Unspoken. Musically, Unspoken could not be further removed from the eighties melodic metal and hard rock of Holy soldier. Yes, you will find the occasional moment on the album hearkening back to Holy Soldier, and I can see fans of the group finding Unspoken of interest, but if you are waiting to catch ‘Another Last Train’ you are going to be, well, still waiting. In terms of specifics, Unspoken is problematic to classify due to bringing a great deal of variety, but I find placing it under a ‘rock’ heading to be sufficient from how it touches upon classic rock, the blues, ballad based territory, grunge/modern rock, instrumental rock, acoustic rock and melodic hard rock/AOR.
Opening cut “Table For One” is a classy grunge based rocker that would do Alice In Chains proud. The song proves flaggingly mid-paced, buttressed by its bass heavy demeanor but imbued by a guitar heavy essence that places it well within hard rock territory. The broad vocal harmonies that step forward help lend to the commercial leanings at hand- give “Table For One” opportunity on mid-nineties FM radio and it would make a strong case for itself. Of equal note is how the middle-register at times gritty and others smooth vocals of Cutting complement the songs heavy but melodic essence.
David Zaffiro, whom produced the first two Holy Soldier albums and mixed and mastered Unspoken, contributes backing vocals on follow up cut “Karma”. This one leans in a lighter AOR tinged melodic rock direction with guitars tempered in comparison and vocal melodies playing the more pronounced role- you can hear Zaffiro’s distinct fluid essence decorating the backdrop. A full seven minutes, “Karma” also allows some jam fusion leanings (Cutting highlights his delectable soloing) and Middle Eastern facets (noting the female vocal melodies of Kamini Natarajan).
Ballad territory asserts itself on “Leave It Behind” and quite well at that. Cutting explores a mellower side to his songwriting abilities here, as piano and acoustic guitars lead the way alongside added female backing vocals and a cameo appearance from Zaffiro. Am I out of line to suggest a hint of The Beatles comes to the forefront?
“Crush” explores acoustic classic rock territory while playing up a fitting bluesy element. Again, the artist approaches things from a lighter standpoint in aligning moments that range from laid back and easy going to atmospheric. When placed alongside “Leave It Behind”, “Crush” upholds the more forthright tempo while giving rise to periodic emotional lead guitar.
Second ballad in three songs, “Never Forget” follows a similar pattern with its use of piano and acoustic guitar but stands out with its enhanced low end from a front to back sturdy bass presence. A tasteful extended instrumental jam (in which Cutting again cuts loose) helps take the song past five minutes. One thing you can say about the albums more reserved material is how it gives Cutting opportunity to accent his easygoing vocal flavorings.
As its title implies, “Happy Hollowdays” stands out as one of the albums more ominous and darker tracks. The song slowly flows through its first two minutes to wave like guitars, gradually building impetus until heavier rocking rhythm guitars step forward and lead the way to the emotionally charged ‘you stole from me’ refrain. The wonderful stretch of pensive soloing proves the artist has not lost his touch.
“Shadow Man” comes across in the form of a classic blues rocker. With Hammond B3 and gritty guitars leading the way, the song shuffles its length not unlike much of the Unspoken material- relaxed, serene and calmly composed. The strong melody that correspondingly rises to the surface helps make “Shadow Man” one of my favorite cuts here. If it had stretched and pushed its musical boundaries, I can see Holy Soldier doing something along these lines (and very well at that).
Speaking of choice Unspoken cuts, seven minute instrumental “Angel On My Mind” is another strong contender. The song traverses ethereal to atmospheric territory, with female backing vocals distantly decorating the backdrop and Cutting allowing his abundant licks and chops to be the focal point. Best part might be the saxophone solo at the halfway point, which brings to mind Rez Band’s “The Return”. In the end, I cannot help but feel some of the artist’s Pink Floyd influences rise to the surface on this one.
Album closes to a much-needed up-tempo melodic hard rocker in “Slip Away”. This one finds Cutting drawing upon his heavier rocking Holy Soldier past, as rhythm guitars command a forthright place in the mix and refrain touches upon the blithe and mirthful but purposeful at the same time. The lead guitar that Cutting lets loose would not sound out of place on Holy Soldier’s self-titled debut.
Of note is the bonus cover to “Shuffle Off To Buffalo”, a folk guitar track originally written by Al Dubin and Harry Warren and introduced in the 1933 musical film 42nd Street. I cannot help but think this must be the first song to enter the mind of an NFL free agent upon signing with the Buffalo Bills…
I have no complaint regarding production, which sidesteps thin and muddy territory in allowing for a transparent separation of instrumentation. Likewise, packaging shines with a 2-panel digi-pak that includes a 24-page fold out mini booklet with liner notes, lyrics and explanation behind the meaning to each song.
According to the artist, lyrics cover a wide variety of topics, all of which draw upon his personal experience: life, love, loss and spirituality. “Karma” is aptly entitled from its treatise on how you reap what you sow:
They say what goes around comes around
Maybe even sevenfold
What you put out will surely greet you
Yeah, somewhere down the road
But it’s just cause and effect, baby
At least that’s what I’ve been told
You got your groove on, I can feel it
You like a new song, I wanna sing it
You flip me upside down, now I see it
My luck is turning around
Subject to “Leave It Behind” is also self-explanatory:
Long is the road after a fall from grace
Isn’t it cold? Rejection’s a lonely place
Been there before, familiar the bitter taste
When you love someone, want to save someone
Just to bleed it out alone
Leave it behind
All that you thought you knew
All that you hold onto
Pour out your soul, tryin’ to fill the holes
In the ones you love to die four
“Never Forget” was written about a loved one’s courageous battle with Alzheimer’s disease:
From shades of shadows to brief starlight in your eyes
To embrace lucidity if only for a while
Lonely are the times, when you don’t’ recognize
I reach out for you, flow in from the tide
Each day draws you a little further away
A feather carried gently by the wind
How cruel the days, they steal you away
Yet you hold your grace with the innocence of a child
“Slip Away” deals with one man’s fearless journey thru the darkness back to the light:
It’s all about the melody that once was mine
But you stole the words from me
It’s all about the memories that once were sweet
But now dark inside of me
When emptiness cones crashing down
In nothingness I begin to drown
Somebody wake me
‘Cmon and save me
Unspoken equates to a moody, laid back and reserved album. It is truly a solo release in this regard when factoring how Cutting could easily have played it safe by recording a Holy Soldier style melodic hard rock album (by no means a bad thing) but also when factoring the wide array of musical styles that define it. Both positive and constructive facets come to the forefront in the process. On one hand, Unspoken features some truly outstanding material, with “Table For One”, “Shadow Man”, “Angels On My Mind” and “Slip Away” rating as this reviewers choice cuts. On the other, the album could use at a minimum an additional upbeat hard rocker to better balance its many mellower moments. In the end, if into any of the musical styles represented or appreciate the artists abilities from his Holy Soldier days, then make it a top priority to track down a copy of Unspoken- you will not be disappointed.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Table For One” (4:42), “Karma” (7:00), “Leave It Behind” (5:13), “Crush” (4:18), “Never Forget” (5:18), “Happy Hollowdays” (5:54), “Shadow Man” (5:39), “Angels On My Mind” (7:13), “Slip Away” (6:00), “Shuffle Off To Buffalo” (2:01)
Michael Cutting – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass & Programming
Anders, Galvin, Jesse, Kyle & Max – Drums
Savio Goncalves - Piano, Organ, Synth & Strings
David Zaffiro - Vocals
Georgia Brown - Vocals
Kamini Natarajan - Vocals
Honey Wells - Vocals