“For me, the title refers to a distress call,” explains former Virgins frontman Donald Cumming in regards to naming his excellent solo debut Out Calls Only. “I like the idea of emoting as being a strictly outbound thing, like having that red telephone that goes directly to its intended line. It can’t take calls in, because it has to be clear in case of an emergency.”

Recorded at East Village Recording Center with additional work done at Sullivan Street Studios in Manhattan, this gem of a modern pop record boasts a feel that instills the groove that made his old group’s pair of ace studio LPs–their eponymous 2008 Atlantic Records debut and the group’s second and final album on Julian Casablancas’ Cult Records label in 2013, Strike Gently–such bloody good fun while transcending anything he’s done prior to this very moment. The seamless shifts in style that transpire across these ten songs, in fact, are more indicative of what he represents as an artist than anything he’s done since he first began absorbing music growing up above the family liquor store in Downtown Manhattan’s Tribeca district. A learned ear can easily hear elements of alt-country, post-modern folk and even sprawling psychedelic instrumentalism in the crescendo of the album’s eight-minute centerpiece “Scarecrow” within the singer’s trademark vibe that permeates all he does. According to Cumming, it is the result of a sound that has no attachment to any kind of cultural agenda.

“I don’t listen to a lot of contemporary music, but it seems to me there is a trend that favors aesthetics over content,” he surmises. “It appears to me that a band can form based on common influences and be perfectly satisfied if they could just approximate a sound and maybe do a song cycle around a specific sound or song. I feel like I see that a lot in modern music. You hear the same tropes in every band’s story, everybody’s press release. It’s all the same bullshit. I think it is infinitely easier to just be honest. I don’t have an aesthetic or a sound that I’m looking for as much as I want to be as sincere as possible.”

And that sincerity is indeed quite palpable across the likes of songs such as “Shadow Tears”, “Lonesome for You”, “Total Darkness” and the album’s illuminating closer “Spanish Horses”, all of which were written during a particularly trying time in Cumming’s life.

“There were definitely things that happened in my life which affected the content of these songs,” he admits. “I had split up with my ex wife right before I began recording, and also the band had split up. I had moved out of my place. I found myself back in my studio space where we had written a lot of the material for the last Virgins album. I had been living there with some of the younger guys who were staying there at the time. I brought my cat, and I found myself back in this life that I thought was behind me.”

The talented musicians who accompany him on Out Calls Only, include bassist Ian Fenger, drummer Skip Johnson, and lead guitarists Jack Byrne and Jack Straw. For Cumming, working with producers Johnny T. Yerington and Gus Osberg, in an organic and loose fashion was tantamount to the outcome of Outcalls Out Calls.

“These were all people I’ve come to know from playing and touring through the years,” he explains. “And they all happened to be in New York at the time of these sessions, and they all came in pretty cold. I would play each song out on acoustic guitar, and we’d start building it all together live.  In a few instances on the album, those were actual first takes which wound up making it on the final cut.”

He further attributes the natural sense of chemistry between he and his new session mates to the democratic way by which he helmed the LP.

“I especially don’t believe in telling people what to play or micromanaging,” he professes. “I don’t write everyone’s parts. If I’m not gonna play it, then I don’t want to write the part. And I’m very fortunate to have what sounds like an organic record. We’re playing what we want to be playing, what makes sense for each song, and we’re playing it all together.”

The freedom to make Out Calls Only the way he wanted to make it without compromise, according to Cumming, is attributed to the autonomy granted to him by his new label, Razor and Tie subsidiary Washington Square, where he joins a highly talented roster of artists that includes The Hold Steady, Jon Batiste and Stay Human and Born Cages.

For the singer, being given the quintessential opportunity to redefine himself with Out Calls Only was all the proof he needed to realize this union between he and Washington Square is indeed a good fit.

“Everyone has been very supportive and I immediately felt like this is a professional atmosphere and I can actually be free to make the kind of music I want to make,” he enthuses. “Which is really all I have ever been looking for at the end of the day.”

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  1. Donald Cumming

    Out Calls Only

    Release date: June 16, 2015

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