[9 December 2009]
The question isn’t how much Gabriel Sullivan sounds like Tom Waits (almost exactly) or whether Sullivan is tired of Tom Waits comparisons in reviews like this one (since it’s an imitation so transparently purposeful). The questions are: (a) Can we take Sullivan’s debut LP, By the Dirt, seriously given such unmistakable mimicry, and (b) how good are the songs anyway? If we take it purely as a Waits tribute, Sullivan is aping the carnival-nightmare Waits in Blood Money/Alice mode, complete with the bloody-throated belching, kitchen-sink percussion, and junkyard lyricism. It helps to be patient with the record, however, as By the Dirt eventually starts to find a more original voice, namely on “House Built on Love”, with refreshing guest vocals by Brittany Dawn, and the country lilt of “I Can’t Do This (Without You)”. The answers, then, to the questions above are (a) not completely, and (b) good enough to demonstrate a real emerging talent, but one who is still looking for himself amid his influences.