Dan Israel and the Cultivators: Love Ain't a Cliché

Stephen Haag

Dan Israel and the Cultivators

Love Ain't a Cliché

Label: Hayden's Ferry
US Release Date: 2003-01-21
UK Release Date: Available as import

PopMatters home
short takes
music archive

Love Ain't a Cliché
(Hayden's Ferry) 21 January 2003 Available as import
by Stephen Haag
:. e-mail this article
:. print this article
:. comment on this article

Judging by the front and back cover and liner notes, Love Ain't a Cliché is a 13-track sugarcoated paean to gazing longingly into a lover's eyes and half-whispered sweet nothings, stolen kisses and all that sappy stuff. After all, the album's "ingredients" lists the tracks as well as the likes of "sugar", "corn syrup", and "yellow #5". Less subtle is the lyrics page with features puppies, a couple taking in a sunset, clinking champagne glasses and a field of daisies. To the point, it's all ironic. One spin through Love Ain't a Cliché, and Israel's point becomes obvious: Love ain't a cliché, because love hurts too damn much to be one. And no amount of pithy candy hearts can change that fact.

But how do Dan Israel and his bandmates -- bassist Kris Bowring and drummer David Russ -- expound upon this theory? With a collection of straight-ahead roots rockers, of course. Even the most novice ears will hear the traces of Tom Petty and John Hiatt in Israel's agreeably raspy voice. (Why is it that guys who sound like that end up singing roots rock? Discuss amongst yourselves.) With the exception of an occasional keyboard and a wayward trumpet, Love Ain't a Cliché is chockablock with no-frills rock music. "Don't Feel Like Laughing" lays it out early on as Israel's and guest guitarist Randy Casey's guitars battle each other while Israel notes "[There's] no concern that fuels my fire / Quite like the struggles of you and me".

Israel can turn a good phrase regardless of whether the song is an uptempo rocker (most of the songs) or on the downbeat side. "Friend in This Town" (as in "no one wants to be your ...") sports one of the truest aphorisms I've heard all year: "Losing's worse when so many winners suck". Amen, brother.

Even if Israel (or at least Israel-the-narrator) is miserable/lonely/pining, the music doesn't suffer for it. "Jump through the Rings" shows a folksy side of the band in a melody that calls to mind, of all things, the Lemonheads' "My Drug Buddy". "Killing Time" wouldn't sound out of place on a John Hiatt album, while "Dark Corner" hides its battle with depression under a bounding bass and a barrelhouse piano. Not everyone can pull off that kind of disconnect between music and lyrics, especially on every track on an album. But when the tunes are as catchy and the guitar work as solid as it is on Love Ain't a Cliché (and Israel can grind an axe with the best of 'em), it all works together. Somewhere, Marshall McLuhan is blaring this album on a deserted stretch of highway, arguing with himself about the medium and the message. But I digress.

Of course, the music doesn't always work. Russ' static-ed out drumbeat on "Sandbags" sinks one of the album's weakest tracks, and the Mariachi-inflected trumpet on "Never-ending Circles" is just a bit too distracting for its own good. Fortunately, Israel's guitar solos make every song palatable.

But on the whole, there's more winners than losers on Love Ain't a Cliché (and they're not winners that suck, to recall Israel's contention). It does my heart good to hear an unpretentious-sounding roots rock record. The Cultivators know from whence they came; Love Ain't a Cliché's liner notes thank the Traveling Wilburys and the Honeydogs. And while they may never transcend a "Followers" link at Tom Petty's entry or a "Customers who bought Hollywood Town Hall also bought" link at (neither of which they actually have, but you see where I'm coming from), they've got the chops and the heart, and there's plenty of people out there who call roots rock home. And that's that's the un-sugar coated truth.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.