Paul Curreri: Lots going on, in and around his songs…

In A Sunshine State
By David McGee

Paul Curreri
Tin Angel

It’s been a long road back from the throat surgery that took Paul Curreri off the active list for some three years, but with California he reminds us of how compelling a singer-songwriter he can be, and how sure-handed a producer he is as well. Sonically, musically, lyrically, Curreri’s California is a wondrous place, and like the Sunshine State itself embraces interludes both unsettling and uplifting in a certain weird, self-affirming California way. Curreri’s bustling CS&N-style melodrama “Once Upon a Rooftop” is a day you want to have only in your most fevered dreams—“Doctor come, pills flyin’ outta his ears/Thumbs on insurance papers/Says ‘Autograph this and drink these beers/And enjoy yourself sooner than later.” The energetic shuffle of “Here Comes Another Morning,” with its lyrics tumbling out in rapid-fire “It’s Alright, Ma”-style, posits “eyes like bumper stickers/That advertise the future/Women paint the playground/The colors of a sports team/That focuses on greatness/And certain kinds of spirit/And that’s rooted for on weekends/By folks who share its cosmos.” The spirit of Neil  Young informs “Off the Street, Onto the Road,” a lilting, acoustic-based series of reflections on incidents that jolted the singer out of a malaise and into forward momentum, although how the opening verse’s imagined phone call from Scott Joplin to Joseph Lamb factors into this is part of the allure of Curreri’s songs.

A consciously literate writer, Curreri jams a lot of words and ideas into a verse—high-minded words and elaborate ideas, to be more specific. On paper this verse from the aforementioned “Once Upon a Rooftop” wouldn’t seem to work: “I found myself burning a piece of French toast/And soon, anything that smelled of sweetness/With a belt-loop lariat I/lasso’d that smoke/And ended up in Encinitas.” But Curreri’s rhythmic phrasing and flow (something that’s not the exclusive province of rap, by the way), in perfect alignment with the song’s bustling pace, delivers it without a hitch, in fact with a bit of a kick in the way his voice rises on one lyric. This is to say, Curreri impresses as a writer using his tools—words—not flamboyantly to call attention to his mastery of language and imagery but solely to tell his story, which does indeed reference many places in California, but is more about the resurrection of his will and ambition—both “Off the Street, Onto the Road” and the laid-back, countrified confession introducing the album, “Now I Can Go On,” make direct references to him finding the resolve to quit treading water, metaphysically and literally, and to seize life anew, and in the love songs is an implicit suggestion of spiritual renewal being translated into fresh determination to shoot the moon. The doubt animating the torchy acoustic ballad “When What You Do Don’t Do It Anymore” makes for one of the album’s most poignant moments in its unflinching embrace of despair, but it’s little more than a speed bump, sandwiched between the optimism of “Off the Street, Onto the Road” and the buoyant energy of “I Can Hear the Future Calling.”

Paul Curreri plays ‘California,’ the title song from his new album, at WNRN in Charlottsville, VA

Curreri the producer mikes himself with a lot of air around his voice, and the effect is like sitting in a small room, so close you can reach out and touch him, as he sings directly to you about what he’s observed going on around him in the world and shares philosophical and literary musings along the way. Nothing is dramatically dazzling about his performance, and that’s the point—he’s direct and immediate and real; sings in a clear, warm, ingratiating tenor rich in feeling and sensitivity; and accompanies himself with deceptively simple guitar picking that is truly accompaniment in the way it asserts the melody but stays resolutely out of the singer’s way (so much so that when he gets a brisk, rolling fingerpicked figure going behind him throughout “I Can Hear the Future Calling” it’s nigh on to startling, but so is the sort of Jews harp whine he affects vocally at song’s end—it all gets a listener’s attention). He maintains such a firm commitment to his understated presentation that when an electric guitar and a piano both surface (along with the lovely harmonizing voice of his wife, one Devon Sproule, an impressive artist in her own right) in a lively version of Michael Hurley’s “Wildgeeses” and also on the gospel-rooted celebration at album’s end, “Down By The Water,” it takes a few beats for it to kick in that there’s more than voice and guitar happening here. Which also indicates how seamless a production Curreri has fashioned, with everything being of a piece with the artist’s personality as we know it from these recordings. For a fairly mellow outing, California certainly has a lot going on in and around its songs. One suspects the same could be said for Paul Curreri’s life these days—lots going on. Good for him, good for us.

Paul Curreri’s California is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024