Friday, January 8, 2016

Cutback "Surfers Journey" CD review

Review by Noel Squitieri, taken from
The subtitle to “Surfers Journey” is “a musicultural experience”, and the listener experiences it right away. The first song, “Intro”, is narrated in a traditional Hawaiian style called “talking story”. “We are surfer.” the narrator, bassist Nicky Ravine, explains. “We explore the ever-changing boundary between land and water.” In their monthly live shows at the Molokai Bar at Ft. Lauderdale’s Mai-Kai restaurant, Cutback use talking stories to lead their audiences through their music, to understand where it comes from, and what it’s about. Not song lyrics, consider them song notes. The talking story of “Intro” explains a surfer’s world-view while the sounds of crashing surf are heard over lovely Tiki-inspired percussion and a gently blowing breeze of bass and guitar. I can almost smell the ocean and see the surf while listening. So compelling is the illusion, I was convinced the track included the sounds of shorebirds, but it doesn’t. The album already had me under its sway.

There are no more talking stories accompanying the other tracks until the last one, fittingly titled, “Outro”. But all the songs are accompanied by their own descriptive subtitles, which provide a hint of explanation. I’ve included them here. Sometime, I’d like to hear the real talking stories about each song.

Surf Fever
There’s only one cure.
The surf must have big when this song was inspired. This is a fast-paced wild ride of a song. It’s got a beat that makes me want to jump up and dance. This is surf music! Make that SURF MUSIC! Call it modern traditional surf music, if it has to be called anything. Lots of feel-good energy. There is a vocal of sorts, more of a vocalization, of the fearful excitement of a surfer falling a long way down off a board head-first into the heavy foam far below. That sound. Fun stuff, the song, not wiping out like that. Have you caught Surf Fever?

New Dawn
Across the faint horizon…
One of my musical fantasies is a surf concept album that starts with a new dawn rising slowly over the ocean’s horizon. This beautiful song could be that opening song, with its romantic guitars, swaying Latin rhythm, and a lovely melody that lingers like the scent of the sea on a gentle breeze. Tranquil. Beautiful. Evocative. Spiritual. Then the sun suddenly breaks over the horizon of the ocean. And it’s a glorious sunrise, fiery and luminous, full of life. But as the sunrise continues, as above a real shore, the startling brilliance fades into the growing overall light, and the original mood returns. I keep playing this song over and over. I want to learn this song. I want to play “New Dawn” on the ocean shore at sunrise. This song is wonderful, full of wonder at the scene it lovingly portrays.

The Liquidator
Surf vs. Spy.
If you think you’ve heard “The Liquidator” before, you probably have, but not like this. Written by Lalo Schfrin, it’s the title song for the 1965 spy thriller of the same name, and is sung by Shirley Bassey. Rather than do a straight instrumental cover, the song is reinvented by Cutback, and their version is spectacular! Through the opening avalanche of drums, the catchy Latin rhythm, period-perfect sound and feel of the guitars, killer bass, and yet more amazing drums, I can see it all now. The dimly lit clubs, the regulars, the out-of-placers, the booze, the cigarette smoke, the villains, the girls, the danger. This song catches the mood so completely I can almost touch the… scenery. Those were the days, and I want to go!

Tubo Mexicana
The tubes of Playa Zicatela.
Located in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, Playa Zicatela, known for big surf that resembles the famous Pipeline, is a place where large swells break into long hollow tubes. It’s the site of Mexican and World Masters Surfing Championships. The song has a rolling, swooping feel that conveys what it must be like to surf down the big wave into those tubes, if you can get there, and stay inside the tunnel of roaring water. Hypnotic. If you can do it right, you want to do it again.

Waanaleia Bay
The most beautiful bay on Earth.
I was initially surprised by this song. I expected a piece of tranquil music like “New Dawn”. But this is a fairly fast dance song. I guess the surf’s up here, and it must be pretty decent surf - not too big, not too fast, but also not low and slow. The sound and feel of the song tells of a surf spot that is just right for a decent surfer looking for a great day with plenty of wonderful rides. It must be a lovely place, for the melody is. It must be the sort of spot where friends stay long after the last ride, to eat, play music, and dance long into the night, to songs like “Waanaleia Bay”.

Witches Rock
Deep in the jungle of Costa Rica.
Hear the birds and animals? Their sounds populate this lively song. Relates Frank Ferraro, “The jungle sound effects (SFX) were actually recorded live by guitarist Rich LaVoir during his travels to Central America. Richard is a sound engineer by education and loves to record ambient sounds of nature during his travels.” This is one rockin’ four-plus minutes of surf music. Most surfers go to Costa Rica for the surfing, which is very good. But the song recommends taking a day off to go on a jungle tour. You’ll be glad you did.

151 Rum Swizzle
Under the influence of the Mai-Kai Molokai.
Two minutes and thirty-two seconds of, well, let’s just say that if you’re the sort of person who drives under the influence of music, don’t listen and drive. But if you like to get up and jump crazily around – you know who you are - under the influence of a clever, driving beat and catchy, wild, fuzzed-out melody, go for it. You won’t care who’s watching. Just do it! You can always blame it on the song. As for that tasty concoction the song’s named after… well, you can blame it on that, too. Just don’t surf and drive.

If you can surf here, you can surf anywhere.
Another song that caught me by surprise. I had some trouble linking the subtitle to the song, which by the way is cheery and uplifting. So I asked Frank Ferraro about it. Turns out Cutback wanted to show the Atlantic Ocean some surf love. The Pacific Ocean gets all the fame and glory from California and Hawaii to Australia, and all the surf songs. Yet, Frank tells me, “The East Coast of the United States, and in particular Florida, has produced more world class surfing champions and Pipeline Masters than any other region of the world.” That’s impressive! Must be something in the water. “Atlantico” represents the good old unappreciated Atlantic Ocean just fine.

Secret Spot
Everybody’s got one.
This song swings! It’s got a real swingin’ beat that makes me want to grab a girl and cut a rug. If there’s a place where the surf is like this, it must be something special. There must be secret spots up and down the coasts, known only a few locals, where the surf is great and no one else goes. But don’t tell anyone else, or everyone will show up. Let’s keep this spot just between us, okay? But please tell everyone about the song. It’s fantastic!

A musical journey.
Okay. Where does a wave take a surfer? The thing about surfing is, it seems like it’s just a short, wet, exciting ride back to where you started. The shore. But the thing about surfing is that no two rides are identical, therefore each experience is new, different. No matter how many times you catch a wave in the same spot, it’s never the same wave. Though a wave may have travelled thousands of miles, suddenly, in an instant, it’s gone… Each wave presents a new experience, another opportunity to learn something new. We change with each experience. What did we learn? In what way are we new? Surfers will end up at day’s end back on the shore, often on the same beach that began their day. But they surfed, therefore they changed, therefore they lived. That’s quite a trip!

Shark Pit
Somewhere on the Treasure Coast.
“Shark Pit” is such a visually strong title. I see a deep underwater hole teaming with marine life, and hungry sharks. Somewhere on the Treasure Coast? Where sunken ships are hidden in the shark pit, laden with gold and silver. Want to go treasure hunting there? You gotta swim with the sharks, if you can find it first. Maybe it’s the whizzing, swishing sound that keeps being repeated and repeated, but the song seems to imply a spear-gun might come in handy. Just another nice day in the water! Maybe it’s better to surf inside?

Follow the coast and find your love.
Like to dance? This’ll get you up on your feet. So much fun in under three minutes. Just dance yourself happy and you’ll find your love, the song seems to be saying. Who am I to argue? This song give me grins as long as it’s playing. I feel happier just listening to it. I think you will, too.

Spanish House
Somewhere near Shark Pit.
A place of romance, mystery, intrigue. Is anyone here whom they seem? Are you? It’s a place to go to forget your past, and maybe meet your destiny, if not exactly your future. Inside Spanish House, the outside doesn’t exist at all. Forget your cares, as long as they don’t walk through the door. Just don’t let down your guard, no matter how relaxed you may feel. Dance a Tango. You must. The rhythm of the song won’t let you go. It captures you like piercing dark eyes framed by long jet-black hair, then captivates, lingers, like a perfect memory, always. You’ll smile a melancholy smile, later. The memory is something you can’t forget.

The Aloha Stomp
The new Surfer’s Stomp.
After a day of great surfing with good friends, and the obligatory cookout, what could possibly make the day even better? Crank up the stereo! It’s dancing on the beach party time! This foot-tapping romp is one terrific dance song. It’s got the beat, the speed, the catchy melody. All you need is your friends and this song. Then just dance the night away. And, while you’re at the Mai-Kai, enjoy their newest concoction inspired by this song, The Aloha Stomp.

Conan The Surfarian
For Da Bull.
Greg Noll. Da Bull. So nicknamed long ago because of the way Greg planted himself on those big guns he invented, and charged down the huge waves he rode. Almost a Sumo wrestler’s stance. He looked like he was daring the surf to knock him off his board. If anyone has earned the right to be called the Conan of Surf, it’s Greg Noll. Conan the Surfarian, indeed! It’s the perfect song to watch films of Greg surfing those big waves at Waimea Bay. I know. I looked up a few film clips and played them while listening to “Conan The Surfarian”. Try it yourself. Can you surf with Da Bull?

Inhale… exhale… evolve.
The day is over. The last wave ridden. The sun has set. The fire has died down to softly glowing embers, and then, finally… out. People are quiet now, the loud talk and laughter silenced by the peaceful night and the clear sky so full of stars. Do you remember the very first time you ever saw the Milky Way on a dark night? I mean, did you see it on a perfectly clear night without any lights at all, even the moon, to spoil the darkness? From horizon to horizon, did you see nothing but the pitch black sky so wondrously full of stars? Did you ever do that after a day spent surfing? It’s time to reflect, listen to the waves. Maybe someone is off, quietly playing a guitar. What did you learn today? The talking story begins. “Explore. Encounter. Envision… “ You’re not exactly who you were when the day began. No one can ride the waves as intimately as a surfer without being changed by the experience. You change because you surf. It’s hard not to.

My musical bonding with “Surfers Journey” started with the beginning of “Intro” and strengthened with each song. What I wrote about “Surf Fever” is, I believe, true for the whole album. I think “Surfers Journey” by Cutback is a modern classic surf record. The sound and feel is just right there. The music mostly stays on the beach or in the water. Or else is about experiences familiar to surfers, especially those who chase the summer to far-off places where the great surf is. You paddle out to this music, sit waiting for good waves that always seem to come when you’re ready, and catch a great ride. And you do it again and again, until the day is done and you’re ready to relax with friends, reveling in the weather, the water, the rides, the joy of everything, the companionship. I think that’s important. Companionship. The music on “Surfers Journey” suits friends who surf together. It has a, “Hey everybody, surf’s up! Let’s all go surfin’!” sound and feel. I like “Surfers Journey”. I like it a lot.

Cutback are:
Rich LaVoir – Guitar and Special Effects
Frank Ferraro – Guitar and Thereminator
Nicky Ravine – Bass and Narrative
Elliot Crawford – Drums and Percussion

All songs by Cutback, except The Liquidator, which is written by Lalo Schifrin and Peter Callander.

Art by Nicky Ravine
SFX by Rich LaVoir

Cutback are at and on Facebook at

“Surfers Journey” will soon be available from Deep Eddy Records and cdbaby.

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