As a new decade begins, veteran roots rocker Rich McCulley is celebrating an anniversary of his own with the release of his fifth album, the 11 track Americana pop “Starting All Over Again.” The 10 busy years since his debut record in 2000 have included 3 additional critically acclaimed albums, hundreds of storied gigs from coast to coast, tens of thousands of touring miles, over a hundred published songs and co-writes, production credits on dozens of notable records, and numerous prominent film and television placements.
At first glance this seems an ironic title for someone with this level of credits, especially as McCulley’s new record is drenched in his classic, road-tested sound: satisfying melodies, chiming guitars, humable harmonies, whirling organs, soaring strings… all the elements of catchy roots pop delivered in tightly polished songs and recorded in an honest, straightforward style that is McCulley’s trademark. Ever present is his distinctive gravelly voice (hailed by IndieMusic.com as “a great rock and roll voice”), providing a solid dose of heartfelt character throughout as the songs unfold.
A clue to the album’s bittersweet tone is found in the dedication notes, where McCulley pays tribute to two friends who passed away from the roots Americana scene in 2009: former girlfriend Amy Farris and close friend/co-writer Duane Jarvis. Both respected solo artists in their own right, these two were also heard as leading side players with artists such as Lucinda Williams, Dave Alvin, Dwight Yoakam, Kelly Willis and others. Their presence loomed large in McCulley’s work since his move to Los Angeles in 2004, as confidants, co-writers, bandmates, and key members of McCulley’s treasured “black book” of musical friends always on call to enhance the musical projects under constant construction at Red Hill Recording, his thriving LA-based recording studio. As he sings in the title track, “I’m learning everything changes, in time… it’s not the end, I’m starting all over again” — an acknowledgment that moving forward means accepting that loss and disappointment are an inevitable part of the ride.
Accordingly, the album finds an emotional center with McCulley’s tribute to Jarvis (“Who’ll Hang The Moon”), a touching, loosely delivered musical reflection on a man he was proud to call a friend and mentor. “There is a light that shines, that you turned on,” sings McCulley. Jarvis’s example is ultimately a sustaining one, as in “Just A Few Miles To Go,” where this imagery returns atop a driving train beat: “It’s getting better, don’t you know… I can almost see the light at the end of the road.” The album opener — the yearning pop oriented “Tell Me, I’m Listening” — was co-written with Jarvis and frequent McCulley collaborator Todd Herfindal (and is one of the last tunes Jarvis wrote).
Alongside these themes of regeneration and starting anew, McCulley’s sometimes stormy love life is also a source of inspiration. We hear this from both sides of the musical spectrum: in “Not the One” (with strings by the late Amy Farris) as an emotional and vulnerable lament of love lost, while “Falling Apart” delivers the same message powerfully as driving rocker that evokes classic Replacements. Other highlights include the rock-oriented “Nowhere” and the tongue in cheek, Tom Petty-ish “The Last Song,” where McCulley tackles the frustration felt by every long time artist as they struggle to keep their career on the rails.
Returning listeners will recognize many favorite Los Angeles players forming McCulley’s core band, including drummers Tommy Rickard (The Meadows, Linda Perry), Brian Young (The Posies) and Tony Horkins (Grant Langston), bassist Taras Prodaniuk (Lucinda Williams, Dwight Yoakam), guitarist/singer Todd Herfindal, keyboardists Carl Byron (Anne McCue, Michelle Shocked), Dennis Hamm (Crosby Loggins), and Adam Marsland, the late Amy Farris on strings, and (a first for McCulley) a crack horn section comprised of Lee Thornburg (Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt, Tower of Power) and Dave Woodford (Roy Orbison, Aerosmith, Supertramp). And as always, McCulley’s tunes are energized by the presence of several close co-writers, including Duane Jarvis, Todd Herfindal, Grant Langston, Justyna Kelley, and Mark Christian.
Prior to the launch of his solo career, McCulley was a hometown hero hailing from humble Fresno, CA, where he wrote, recorded and toured with a variety of county rock and pop rock bands on labels such as Geffen and Columbia. After the release of his debut, he relocated his band to San Francisco for four years before making the leap to Los Angeles in 2004. “San Francisco was a great touring base and had a fun scene, but the dedicated underground Americana scene in Los Angeles eventually drew me away,” he says.
The move to Los Angeles helped expose McCulley’s music to the film and television community, which responded by placing both his self-penned songs and his co-written tunes in projects such as ABC’s “Men In Trees,” CBS’s “Cold Case,” HBO’s “Cathouse,” Lifetime’s “Army Wives,” and even a National Lampoon movie. While live performing and recording have always been McCulley’s primary motivation, these placements have helped inject new audiences and always-welcome funds into his ongoing work.
Is there another ten years ahead for this Americana artist? “What else would I do?” asks McCulley in return. “Music is all I know, and it is all I ever wanted to do. It has kept me alive all this time with food on the table, great friends, and a supportive, inspiring community. With any luck the songs will keep on coming for many more years.”