There are very few performers in the world of music who just get better with age but we can be thankful Stephen Cummings is one. He writes and sings about the issues of his current stage in life as potently as he did about his youth. Stephen's new album, Skeleton Key, is no dream world of fluffy pop songs about never ending love, but it's an optimistic look at life from the standpoint of someone who's lived a reasonable slab of it.. It's musically adventurous and, as usual, lyrically superb.
So what else has Stephen been up to?
The "Skeleton Key" story begins with Stephen being immobilized by a back problem, causing much pain but also focusing his attention on non-athletic activities such as writing songs. By the time he got back on his feet he had more material of high quality than he needed for an album. At this point a film maker from Adelaide, J Harkness - a fan of Cumming's music - decided to use Stephen's new songs in a feature film as well as casting their writer in a supporting role.
"I've made my acting debut, playing a supreme court judge in a new feature-film called 'Dope', which is to be released next February. It's a racial-thriller-cum-love story. I contributed four songs to the soundtrack, along with songs from Neil Finn, Gil Scott Heron and others."
Stephen's not about to throw in music for the silver screen but the film did mark the beginning of the new album and.....
"These past two summers I've become the Swimming Pool correspondent for The Age daily newspaper, as well as knocking off book reviews on a regular basis for the same publication.
"I've written a number of new songs which will appear on new albums for Vika & Linda, Jimmy Little and Rebecca Barnard.
"My most recent novel, 'Stay away from Lightning Girl' has been adapted for film and apparently is due to start shooting this time next year."
Skeleton Key will be released on Monday October 1st, 2001 through the W.Minc label and distributed by MGM.
Stephen will launch and perform the music of "Skeleton Key" in Melbourne and Sydney at the following venues. Further tour dates are to be announced.
Saturday October 13th - The Cornish Arms, 163a Sydney Road, Brunswick (03) 9380 8322 ***Full band performance: Jeff Burstin, Bill McDonald, Shane O'Mara, Rebecca Barnard, John Watson, Ross McLennan
Wednesday October 17th - The Basement, 29 Reiby Place, Circular Quay (02) 9251 2797 ***Acoustic performance with Stephen & Shane O'Mara
The new Stephen Cummings CD "Skeleton Key" is striking from the moment you set eyes on it. Tony Mahony's evocative photography conjures a mood that's difficult to place. It's not until you've heard the thing from start to finish that you realise how fitting those photographs are, how their mood is matched by the music - as is their sheer quality. This is no dream world of fluffy pop songs about never ending love, but it's an optimistic look at life tempered with the realism of someone who's lived a reasonable slab of it. There are very few performers in the world of music who just keep getting better but we can be thankful Stephen Cummings is one. He writes and sings about the issues of his current stage in life as potently as he did about his youth. On Skeleton Key, as usual, he has been quite musically adventurous, choosing to add spice to his tried and tested crew of Melbourne musicians with people from outside his normal sphere such as Ross McLennan from Snout. Also appearing on this record are Bill McDonald on bass; Shane O'Mara and Jeff Burstin on guitars; Michael Barker, Peter Jones and Peter Luscombe on drums and percussion; Garret Costigan on pedal steel; Bruce Haymes on keyboards and Rebecca Barnard and Ross Wilson on backing vocals. This is the first time Ross Wilson has appeared on a Stephen Cummings album - he contributes some great harmonica as well as an element of musical history.
The vitality evident on this CD is due, in part, to circumstances not normally conducive to zest. The story begins with Stephen being immobilized by a back problem, causing much pain but also focussing his attention on non-athletic activities such as writing songs. By the time Stephen got back on his feet he had more material of high quality than he needed for an album. At this point a film maker from Adelaide, J Harkness - a fan of Cumming's music - decided to use four of Stephen's new songs in a feature film, Dope, as well as casting their writer in a supporting role. Stephen's not about to throw in music for the silver screen but the film did mark the beginning of the album.
The recording started with one very productive day at Joe Camilleri's Woodstock studio and was completed over a period of a couple of months at Shane O'Mara's Yikesville Studio. Shane and Stephen shared the producer's love seat. The two took a spontaneous approach to the whole thing which has resulted in a vibrant recording - exceptional musical and vocal performances provide a perfect setting for Stephen's great new collection of songs .
I've got nothing against digital music - it's all to do with the terminology. It's based on pits instead of grooves and pitty will never replace groovy. From here on I will dispense with digital jargon. It's difficult to explain the X-factor that really makes sounds and songs leap from the grooves. A combination of good sounds and songs recorded well may not necessarily grab your attention. There must be a passion in the writing, performance and recording that somehow makes the journey from wherever it began in the songwriter's grey matter to the pleasure spots of the listener. Skeleton Key, like an instinctive snap over the shoulder for a goal on the siren, performs this miracle in nonchalant fashion. From the opening title track with its "she cares for me" refrain, to the final blues bravado of Is It Me That You Love, 'Skeleton Key' always connects directly. Stellamare is a mysterious epic tune co-written with Christopher Marshall. You Put A Pain On My Heart sounds like a wickedly good and true rock song from a great, long-forgotten Joe Cocker album, before he got the wind beneath his wings. Love Is Mighty Close To You, already covered by Jimmy Little and appearing in the soundtrack for "Dope", is a simple, beautiful Mexican tinged acoustic track with an optimistic message. "But the morning star's rising/Climbing into view/Love is mighty close to you." The Truth About Love is a roller coaster ride through a relationship. It tells the story of a romance between "the customer and the waitress" from beginning to end - and maybe back to the beginning again. Its' bitter-sweet and sadly optimistic ending will bring a pang of recognition to many people. Also setting the mood is a wonderful song in waltz time called Time Trip. Amid a beautiful musical setting highlighted by Garret Costigan's cascading pedal steel Stephen concludes "Life comes in a mad rush or on a slow drip/Ooh baby it's been a time trip."
This record is the soundtrack of a real life time trip.