Sean Cunningham: Whatever That Is (digital outlets)

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Sean Cunningham: Whatever That Is (digital outlets)

Kaylee Bell has successfully embraced the mainstream country-rock sound of Nashville, and Nashville-based Sean Cunningham has located himself closer to the alt.country genre.

Kentucky-born Cunningham is mentioned here in the Bell context because he too has a local connection, albeit a bit tenuous.

In 2007 as the short-lived Atlas – with former Zed bassist Ben Campbell, his singer sister Beth and Joe McCallum -- their hit Crawl topped our charts for nine weeks. Not that it impressed Duncan Grieve who wrote about it for AudioCulture and called it “a dirge of song straight from the Bush/Creed/Nickelback school of tortured pierced dude rock” when he considered our top singles in a 2013 article.

Well, that was a long time ago, eons in popular music: teenage Taylor Swift had just released her debut album and was a promising country singer and Cunningham wasn't much older than her at the time of Crawl.

And we must allow artists to change.

That said, Cunningham on this debut album under his own name is still sounding the tortured artist although the context of agonised alt.country-cum-indie rock is perhaps a more useful and believable location for songs than the adolescent emo world.

After all, this is a man who can now write about overcoming substance abuse (Lonesome No More with “walking up on the jailhouse floor”) and has more raw life stories than just feeling a bit out of sorts with the world (the death of his father).

There are some evocatively mood pieces here (North, the string-coloured Alibi, Ants on the Ground), he errs to mainstream indie.rock-cum-pop with heartland material like Habit, and No Strings is a spare and yearning piece which is quietly gripping.

Whatever That Is sounds like a mature and considered collection from someone who has previously tried his hand at a number of styles – we don't hold that against him, without Johnny Cougar and Davie Jones we never would have got John Mellencamp or David Bowie – and alighted on being the slightly tortured but survivor singer-songwriter.

A tip, start in the more reflective second half.

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You can hear and buy this album at bandcamp here


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