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Mark Cutler stays solo on `Skylolo'
By ANDY SMITH
Journal-Bulletin Pop Music Writer
A midget wrestler from the '40s named Sky Low Low might seem an odd rock 'n' roll hero.
But he gave Mark Cutler the title song for his current album, Skylolo , and a photo of the wrestler's small but determined body graces the cover of the disc. (Cutler got Sky Low Low's picture off a wrestling site on the Internet.)
``I just liked the sound of the name,'' Cutler said. ``I always thought it would be a great name for a band.'' Or an album.
Sure, but is there more to it than that? A comment on determination, about overcoming adversity, about the little man battling larger forces around him?
``I don't know, maybe there is some unconscious thing happening with all that,'' Cutler said. ``I'll write a song and about a year later I'll think, `Wow, I didn't think I was giving that much away.' ''
Cutler officially released Skylolo , produced by Rhode Island's Tom Buckland and former Neighborhoods frontman David Minehan, last week.
He's got a couple of shows scheduled in Providence this month to support the record -- Saturday at the Met Cafe, 130 Union St., where he'll open for Young Neal & the Vipers, and at the Century Lounge, 150 Chestnut St., Providence on March 28.
``For a while we were playing Providence a lot, and I think we were starting to wear out our welcome,'' Cutler said. ``I feel a band needs to have a tale to tell. And now, with a new record, we do.''
Actually, the prolific Cutler didn't just release a record -- he released a record-and-a-half. A few months before Skylolo, he came out with a six-song cassette, Six All the Way.
``There was a delay in bringing out Skylolo , and we wanted to get something out in the meantime. These were songs we were playing live,'' Cutler said. ``Someday I might re-record some of them for another disc.''
He's always been a prolific songwriter -- at the moment, he said, he's working on five songs.
Cutler now lives in the Boston area, working as a quality assurance engineer for a software company in Newton, Mass. (``There's a lot of musicians working in computers,'' he said.)
But Cutler has been a force on the Rhode Island music scene since the mid-'80s, when his band The Schemers ruled the rock roost. After the Schemers, Cutler formed the Raindogs, who snagged a major-label record deal and put out a pair of records on Atco before the company folded.
Since then he's gone solo, releasing Gasboy in 1995 and now Skylolo.
So Cutler has been around the block a few times. This is not some 20-year-old who has just discovered that life is unfair.
Characters in Cutler's songs work for a living. They've been through some tough times. They've seen a few dreams go up in smoke.
On Top of the Moon the narrator contrasts rich fantasies (celebrations in Paris, for example) with his own pedestrian life; This Family is about one of those functioning dysfunctional clans -- ``This family don't live and let live,'' Cutler sings.
Candy is a tale of a femme fatale; Lie Next to You is a sweet song with an easy country lilt. ``I thought of it as a song for Willie Nelson,'' Cutler said. ``I brought it to Minehan and he said, `I'll kill you if that doesn't go on the album.' ''
I Could Get Used To This is a mournful take on isolation. Might Be Recognized warns that trouble is never very far behind: ``Better close your eyes/ put on your disguise/ You might be recognized.''
Keep On Trying is a change of pace, going for that '60s soul feel, complete with horn section.
Cutler has a classic style, with sturdy, guitar-driven melodies, that calls to mind Bob Dylan or Tom Petty.
``I listen to a lot of new stuff . . . when people call my style classic rock, I don't know what to say. I just smile and say thank you, as long as it's not meant in a disparaging way,'' he said. ``I think if I tried to change too much now, it wouldn't sound right.''
Actually, Cutler did tinker with sampling technology on the Raindogs' second album, 1991's Border Drive-In Theatre , which he now calls a failed experiment.
That's not to say you can't hear Cutler's style on the radio these days -- The Wallflowers or Counting Crows come to mind.
But Cutler said he just hopes to earn enough money to make another record -- and maybe have some other musicians record his songs. (He's got a publishing deal with Bug Music.)
He's been working with Darren Hill, a former Raindog who now manages The Amazing Royal Crowns, a band that had a very succesful year in 1997.
``I hope he can do half as good for me,'' Cutler said.
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