Mama's Kitchen Album reviews.
Release Date: 06.08.99 Web homepage
Record label: Hayden's Ferry Records
by: steven jacobetz
First of all, let's set some things straight for the record.
The band's name is the Cultivators, but they don't do any songs about farming. They are a bunch of rockers from Minneapolis; Minnesota's answer to the Wallflowers, but they do have some country influences.
Secondly, Cultivators is a better name than Dan Israel and the Cultivators, which was the name on the band's first album, Before We Met (1998), when band leader Dan Israel's name was out front. Who wants a name like Dan Israel up front? At least Cultivators is less alarming to any Jewish and/or Palestinian listeners.
Lastly, I think this band is going to be big really soon. The hook to each of the 12 songs on the record sticks in my head, which is really rare. They have a sound which is friendly to both modern and classic rock radio stations, and Mama's Kitchen should be played by both.
If I didn't know better, I'd swear I was listening to some Tom Petty or Wallflowers. Israel's voice has the slightly nasal quality of a voice like Petty's, but not as severe as Bob Dylan's. The lyrics are clear (despite Israel's tendency to mumble the last word of phrases), the melodies are catchy, and it rocks without much distortion on the guitar sound. My 50-year-old father would love this record. It doesn't threaten anyone's ears.
There's no innovation on this album, but the sound is remarkably well-layered for a second record, including vocal harmonies, a Hammond organ, fiddles, and country-like slide guitar. The track "Happy Again" features distinct folk/Celtic influences. The band seems on the verge of breaking into a full-fledged joyous Irish jig near the end, despite Israel's typically depressed lyrics, "Maybe someday we'll be happy again." There are enough stylistic variations throughout the album to keep things interesting.
One major criticism is that the tone of the instrumental playing on the album is the total opposite of the tone of the lyrics. These are jolly, upbeat tunes which make you want to dance and sing along, but Israel's lyrics are depressing, self-critical, lamenting and mournful. It is a bit confusing. I'm wondering how the band wants me to feel. From the leadoff track, "All Alone," which is a rocking, upbeat song which declares "I am all alone, all by myself" until the end of the album, I'm just not sure.
Although the lyrics are depressing, they do hit a nerve. The refrain of "Behind The Curtain", "Why did you go and trade it all for what's behind the curtain?" speaks to anyone who has been dumped for what they felt was no good reason. The album's last song, "Stranger Things" features female vocal harmonies by a friend of the band, Kristin Mooney, which give the track a really haunting and moving feel. "Stranger things have happened to me, but I don't know when."
Overall, a rocking and thought-provoking album by Israel and friends. They deserve a break quickly. This will go over big if it ever gets out to mainstream radio. The album is definitely worth a listen. It's hard to believe the Cultivators are still stuck in the barrooms of Minnesota, but stranger things have happened.