You probably know the sound of Spencer Cullum’s pedal steel guitar, behind which he is most often situated as he backs up the likes of Miranda Lambert, Deer Tick, and countless others. Or perhaps you know him best as one half of Steelism, his instrumental duo with guitarist Jeremy Fetzer. But you have never heard him like you will on his first solo album, Spencer Cullum’s Coin Collection. Supported by the many voices he has himself supported over the years, including Caitlin Rose, Andrew Combs, and Erin Rae, Cullum steps into the role of frontman, singing lead vocals across eight original tracks. A little folky and a little trippy, Cullum’s debut pays homage to his English “prog” roots while embracing the sounds of his adopted home of Nashville.
Spencer Cullum’s Coin Collection is an aesthetic, gem-hued tapestry. Strong pastoral shades of ’60s and ’70s English folk bleed into sun-drenched psych-rock, spacy krautrock, and buoyant, melodic Britpop. Cullum and his band play with elements like a subtle distortion, which casts a slightly dusty, warped-record filter that particularly comes through on “To Be Blinkered.” The instrumental track “Dietrich Buxtehude” takes us on a celestial ride through a textured universe as synth-laden as it is twangy. Opening track “Jack of Fools” draws us in with a hypnotic guitar lick, and “Tombre En Morceaux” is a groovy mod earworm with the prettiest twinkle of flute and the album’s loveliest vocal harmonies.
As a singer, Cullum is soft and subdued. His thick English accent lends even more of an old-world quality to the sonic time traveling journey of Coin Collection. The lilting “My Tree” and the moody “Imminent Shadow” are especially delicate, with just the haziest hint of accompaniment. The songs on Coin Collection listen like art pieces rather than lyrical statements or commentary on our current times. Cullum invites us to escape with him to another time and place and we will gladly take him up on it.