Spencer Cullum
Photo: Angelina Castillo / Courtesy of Force Field PR

Spencer Cullum Drops the Twang for a British-Folk Solo Debut Destined to Be a Cult Classic

A peerless session musician looking to branch out on his own, Spencer Cullum mines his British-folk inspirations for a lush and lovely solo album.

Spencer Cullum's Coin Collection
Spencer Cullum
Full Time Hobby
24 September 2021

The word “winsome” feels like it was invented specifically to describe Spencer Cullum’s Coin Collection. While the British-born pedal steel guitarist cut his teeth in the big, bright instrumental pop sounds of his duo Steelism (while also being an in-demand session player for the likes of Miranda Lambert and Kesha), none of his previous work points to the rich sound of Coin Collection.

Obsessed with British folk and psychedelic rock, Coin Collection is the kind of album that feels like it came out in the early 1970s, littered with oboes, light piano, glinting acoustic guitar plucks, and Cullum’s own plainspoken singing voice. In any other world, it’d be mere imitation: an LP designed as a love letter to a long-forgotten era. Yet, in Cullum’s dexterous hands, this Coin Collection has some real value.

As if metamorphosing from Shawn Lee into Ryley Walker by way of Unhalfbricking, Cullum very much designed Coin Collection to bear the hallmarks of his favorite folk records growing up. Even the bell chimes of opener “Jack of Fools” don’t ring clearly; instead, they are coated with a thin layer of vinyl warping. The sonic details throughout are breathtaking to take in, but none of it would matter had the songs not been up to snuff.

Thankfully, Coin Collection feels like the kind of record a musician puts out after squirreling away their songs for years. Cullum runs his tracks through a gamut of temperatures from the warm, breathing, pastoral “To Be Blinkered” to the dusty and minor-key grooves of “My Protector”. Songs like the shimmering woodwind workout “Tombre Enmorsheux” feel as bright and comforting as a warm hug delivered via L.A. Express, while “My Protector” clinks glasses with cold regrets.

Even with this panoply of tones, Coin Collection still feels like a cohesive statement of a record, as each wild musical detour he tries out still feels in line with his acoustic troubadour idol worship. When “The Dusty Floor” builds up to a full-band Beatles freakout, he ends up capturing that late ’60s psych wash that means a lot to him. Meanwhile, the eight-minute “Dieterich Buxtehude” rides a pulsating bass groove and spacey synth pads to give us the full-bore folk-Krautrock hybrid we didn’t know we needed to hear.

In all, Spencer Cullum’s Coin Collection is a gem of a record, clearly steeped in music history while infusing its songs with a new kind of worldview. The only downside to the proceedings may be Cullum’s voice. Having not previously been known as a singer, his approach to singing his words is understated and sincere. However, Cullum sometimes stacks his vocal layers so that his own words don’t stand out in the mix. His words are quietly profound (and his rendering on “My Tree” echoes that Alexi Murdoch very closely). Rarely are we allowed to sit and feel their impact, as they are too elaborately produced to render any notable emotional reaction.

It’s a shame, too, because Spencer Cullum’s Coin Collection feels like the kind of record that generations will discover down the line, a quiet cult classic infused with obvious and beautifully interpolated inspirations. While Cullum can no doubt pick up the phone and lend his instrumental artistry to whichever major label act is willing to pay him, it’s clear he’s on to something with Coin Collection.

Much like a real-life coin collection, its value will only appreciate over time.

RATING 7 / 10