“Elisabeth writes songs that offer intelligent, introspective peeks through a multi-colored musical glass… a capable guitarist and arranger too.”
Guitar Player Magazine
Singer-song-diarist Elisabeth Cutler cheekily calls her style ‘My World Music’. But it is a world of emotions every one can relate to: Heartbreak and passion, promises and fears, discovery and loss. Intimate and honest and drawing from folk, jazz and rock, her songs find unique ways of speaking of these familar places through the beauty of intense, memorable imagery. It is a fresh take on an old theme, a poetic dialogue between words and music – and certainly a lot more than 3-chords-&-the-truth.
Remaining independent has turned into a way of life for Cutler. In the mid 80s, she took a simple, yet momentuous decision, enrolling in a training program for instrument repair. The move not only brought her even closer to the guitar, it also gave her the creative freedom to focus on the thing that sets a great artist apart: Her songs. “A good song completes the identity of an artist,” she says, “It is the song that remains in the memory, not the name of the artist.”
Cutler has always been a bit of an outsider. Already as the youngest of five children, she was the last to remain at home, clinging to her guitar as a friend and companion. And even when her voice and technique had been shaped by years of studying and playing, she long preferred writing songs in the studio to performing them on stage. Tellingly, too, her first pieces were instrumentals. No wonder, then, that Canadian legend Joni Mitchell was an early inspiration – an artist unafraid of following her own way, going against the grain and being different.
For Cutler, songwriting has always been thrilling and painful at the same time. Her love for the craft begins when, at the age of 14, her boyfriend shows her how to play “Blackbird” by the Beatles and introduces her to Joni Mitchell’s Songs to a Seagull. By this time, she has already played her instrument for years and is studying jazz guitar at Berkelee. She isn’t interested in a spot in the limelight, however. Not then, not later, when she’s touring the coffeehouses of Seattle. Right from the very start, she just wants to compose and pour her inner world of feelings and thoughts into music.
She learns from the best: Mitchell, the Beatles and the Greatful Dead are spinning on her turntable, the legendary Ralph Towner is her masterclass tutor. But she knows she can’t start a revolution from her bed. So she packs her bags and leaves for Nashville, the capital of country, folk and western. Here, she learns the tricks of the trade, collaborates with renowned colleagues and grows into a mature artist. Nashville teaches her the essence of a great piece of music: First, the readiness to lay one’s life open for all the world to see. And then, the will to spend countless days, weeks or even months refining them.
She also hones her chops on the guitar. Increasingly, it is turning into a tool for sonic exploration. Groovy yet complex, almost banjo-like rhythms start making an appearance, intricate harmonic variations and “unnamable, odd-shaped chords”. Her collection grows to include electric guitars and pedals. Among her most prized possessions are a one-of-a-kind Ken Parker prototype and an original 1973 Gibson 340 for a warm, fat, jazzy timbre. They all combine into a personal galaxy of sound and harmony, which she investigates on six full-length studio albums.
“Smart refined acoustic pop… the point of view is all her own. Mature-sounding acoustic instrumentation… experimenting with forms rather than adhering to formulas… powerful.”
Michael McCall – The Nashville Scene
The songs for each feel like chapters in a larger book with an over-riding theme. In 1993, she records her eponymous debut album with a band and late great producer Johnny Pierce. Pierce remains on board for follow-up Bury the Ghost (1996), which plows similar folk rock territory, but with more self-assured, determined and gritty songs. Her fourth album, Hurricane of Change, a log book of a painful divorce and her departure from the USA to Europe, establishes her as a profound lyricist. Follow-ups Slow Release (2009) and Polishing Stones (2015), meanwhile, have a warm, soulful and jazzy feeling to them.
After a lifetime of travelling and moving, her current, quiet Italian home is the perfect space for writing fresh material. Here, the pieces for her seventh album, Silence is Rising, slowly took shape over a two year period. Outwardly, its sound is warm, detailed and jazz-oriented, powered by funky world rhythms and enriched by dreamy electronics. Underneath the surface, however, Cutler speaks openly about her own mortality and the will to live, personal tragedies, small miracles and the loneliness and isolation which are the unplanned consequences of her artistic independence and outspokenness.
The themes of her songs haven’t changed, they’ve just come sharper into focus. If, like Frida Kahlo, she still prefers to paint self-portraits, then maybe this is because she’s the person she knows best. Each one is different, each one is bringing her closer to resolving the riddles of her own little world. None of these portraits would be complete without the audience, however. So make yourself comfortable, pour a glass of wine – and just listen.
- Silence is rising (2019 TASAL)
- Polishing Stones (2015 Beste! Unterhaltung), producer Filippo De Laura
- Slow Release (2009 Tre Lune Records/EGEA), producer Filippo De Laura
- Hurricane of Change (2002 Inbetweens Records), producer George Marinelli, Jr.
- Tower of Silence (2000 Pandora Records), producer George Marinelli, Jr.
- Bury the Ghost (1996 Rain Records), producer Johnny Pierce
- Elisabeth Cutler (1993), producer Johnny Pierce
Elisabeth Cutler is the proud endorser of Parker Guitar Company, Fishman Transducers, and D’Addario Strings.