Karl Culley: Last! (double album)
It’s a long time since one of Harrogate's greatest musicians of the modern era, Karl Culley was better known for his amazing guitar technique than his songs or his singing.
Once, ten years or so ago when this talented singer-songwriter released his debut album Bundle of Nerves when I used to book him regularly for gigs in Harrogate, his standout quality was his impressively rapid finger-picking and his incredible rhythmic and rippling style of guitar playing.
At that time that seemed more than enough. It was such a leap from his previous musical venture as a teenager when he had been a member of young Harrogate indie band Mindermasts.
Even at the time of his debut solo show upstairs in the hushed intimacy of Harrogate Theatre’s studio it felt as if there was nothing wrong with his voice that confidence and experience wouldn’t put right.
Sure enough, as his perpetual battle between light and dark was expressed with increasing skill on albums such as The Owl, Phosphor and Stripling, Culley’s vocals improved in tandem, so much so he was reviewed favourably in Mojo and the Sunday Express.
New album Last! sees the journey complete - though the irony is Culley himself has said it will, as the title itself suggests, be his last ever recordings.
If so, he’s going out in style with a double album and some of the best songs of his career, especially the wonderful Nastassya, one of the best songs he’s ever written.
Comparisons to the like of John Martyn, Tim Buckley and Jose Gonzalez now look lazy and misplaced.
Culley has long been his own man, blending his usual dark humour with sometimes chilling honesty, his quiet surface disguising turbulent depths below.
His twin obsessions of longing and regret mixed with dollops of guilt and lust remain on all 21 tracks, from opener Perfection (Only Exists In the Mind) to closer Looking Back Blues.
After all these years, Culley, who has lived in Kracow for most of the last decade, is still mulling over the same old ground with sadness but, also, some wisdom.
His vocals now breathe as much emotion into that battle as the songs themselves.
Perhaps he has lost that battle forever but, on behalf of music fans everywhere, I hope not.
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