Mama's Kitchen

The Cultivators

Persistent / Hayden's Ferry Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I'm convinced that inside the chest of every alternative-country musician beats the heart of a rock 'n' roller.

Take Minneapolis's The Cultivators, for example. For most of their disc Mama's Kitchen, guitarist/vocalist Dan Israel and company put out some of the more enjoyable alterna-country this side of The Jayhawks - though it does take some time and effort to really get into the disc. But the band slowly starts moving towards a more rock-oriented sound, and by the end of the album, their focus has changed. It's kind of an interesting shift, but it's not an unpleasant one at all.

The first thing that strikes you about The Cultivators is the professional sound they have. Israel is a veteran of the indie scene, while this venture - also featuring lead guitarist/mandolinist Tom Sampson, bassist Jeremy Smith and drummer Andy Rauh - sound like they've been honing their craft together for the longest time. The flow of the music is so natural and smooth that it would be an easy opinion to share. It's so smooth that you can hardly tell when guest musicians join in the fray.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But with this comes the one difficulty that listeners might have. Mama's Kitchen is not the easiest disc to get wrapped up in; if you're not holding on to every note, there's a good chance you'll find yourself distracted from the music. Then again, maybe this is just me; I seem to recall having the same difficulty with The Jayhawks the first time I tried listening to them.

The Cultivators keep the spirit of alterna-country alive for the first half of the disc; tracks like "All Alone," "Never Stopped To Run" and "Scrambling Scheme" all do a good job of keeping this viable form of music alive in people's minds. But somewhere around the middle of the disc, a shift in styles begins to occur. You can hear it a little bit in "Graduation Day"; you can definitely hear something happening by the time "Word On The Street" kicks in.

For you see, Israel seems like he can't totally forsake his alternative rock roots, and he gives them room to grow in this musical mixture he's created. But, instead of distracting from the original vision, the flow into a more alternative vein seems to fuel the band musically, so that by the time things wind back into a country vein on "Stranger Things," the band seems to have been injected with a new-found energy. I don't mean to imply that the music on the second half of Mama's Kitchen stagnates, but it does seem like Israel knew when the right time to breathe some life into the scene was.

Mama's Kitchen might not be the kind of disc that will bring The Cultivators instant wealth and fame. Instead, what it should do is bring some well-earned attention to this group, as well as open people's ears and minds again to the mixed breed of country and alternative rock. It may take some effort to get through this disc the first time, but the effort will soon prove worthwhile.

2000 Christopher Thelen and "The Daily Vault". All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of the record label, and is used for information purposes only.

Rating: B+

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© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Persistent / Hayden's Ferry Records, and is used for informational purposes only.