"It's really the thing of the song and the singer ..."
Stephen Cummings releases his first new album in three years, Spiritual Bum, on July 26. It will be an enhanced CD with bonus CD ROM content.
Featuring collaborations with Ashley Naylor from Even, and Shane O'Mara and Rebecca Barnard from Rebecca's Empire, Spiritual Bum includes songs destined to be hailed as Cummings classics, including Wishing Machine, Sad To Go, The Half Light, Nobody Ever Could Ever Feel This Way and Straight To Your Arms.
Spiritual Bum is Stephen's 11th solo album (including two compilations), but his first for his new home, Festival Records.
"My last two records, with Steve Kilbey producing (1996's Escapist and 1994's Falling Swinger), were all atmospheres and soundscapes," Stephen says. "I wanted all that to change with this record.
"I really wanted to make more of an acoustic record. Simple and to the point. It's really the thing of the song and the singer, In-your-face and immediate, but also warm."
The Sydney Morning Herald once said: "If the world were a fair place and artists were rewarded in accordance with their abilities, Stephen Cummings would be a rich and famous man."
Who knows where Spiritual Bum will land. But on it, Stephen sings: "I'm filled with a crazy kind of hope" and declares: "I'm gonna buy me a wishing machine/ Everything's worth a try".
With a new label and new management (and a new novel, Stay Away From Lightning Girl, to be released in August), could this be a new start for Stephen Cummings, who made his major recording debut 21 years ago?
"Yeah, it could be."
The best records are something like a knock on the door. You answer and find it's not the Seventh Day Adventists or the guy come to read the gas meter but a friend whose very presence lightens your load. You invite them in and, of course, they take advantage of your welcoming nature and stay around forever. This is one of those records.
Before he started recording "Spiritual Bum" Stephen Cummings stated (in the presence of reliable witnesses) "It's time to make another really great album." His past couple of records had been made in Sydney with Steve Kilbey and it seemed time to return to Melbourne (though he'd never really been away); quite literally to come home to a studio assembled in his back shed in Caulfield. Though the subject matter had not changed (in Stephen's words "love and the failures of mature life") these latest songs seemed to demand the down home approach - simple, emotional and direct; the kind of recording where the musicians and the singer sound like they're in the room with you, not in a shiny high-tech studio.
The twelve songs on "Spiritual Bum" range from a delicate ballad with backing from acoustic guitar and Wurlitzer only to full band workouts that recall the swagger of the Faces at their very best, and a song Stephen thinks of as "the White Album meets Al Green". They are populated by a range of characters (or is it just one in differing moods?) - the guy in the bar "drinking the heart out of the afternoon" who eventually realizes it's "such luck to be alive"; the person cradling his child (or lover, we're not quite sure) thinking "nobody ever could ever feel this way"; and in case we forgot "oh, and one more thing, don't talk to me about love".
Stephen's choice of musicians is, as ever, both interesting and logical. Bill MacDonald from Rebecca's Empire plays bass, guitar and organ, also from that band longtime collaborators of Stephen's Shane O'Mara and Rebecca Barnard appear on guitar and vocals respectively, Peter Jones (Deadstar) and Peter Luscombe (Rebecca's Empire and Paul Kelly) play drums, Bruce Haymes (Paul Kelly) appears on organ and Wurlitzer, Jeffrey Burstin plays various guitars and Tornado organ (whatever that may be), Dan Luscombe (Blackeyed Susans) and Robert Goodge play slide guitar and David Bridie plays toy piano. Another important contributor who is new to Stephen's world is Ashley Naylor from the band Even who plays great guitar on three tracks and co-writes one of these. The album was recorded by Simon Polinski and mixed and brought together by Robert Goodge between early October '98 and late January '99.