It’s her singing that always draws attention, and partly for the things that it doesn’t have. No vibrato, no trendy affectations, no unnecessary melodic ornamentation. Just a pure and uniquely beautiful voice.
It started happening in the late 90’s at the Free Times Café – an important singer/songwriter incubator for Toronto’s resilient acoustic scene. With a natural flair for performing, she honed her skills by hosting the weekly open mic night and cultivated an early fan base of peers in the local music community.
The first Lori Cullen CD came out at the start of a new century. Garden Path reflected a young sensibility informed by her heroes Joni Mitchell and Jane Siberry. Two years later she shifted gears to jazz standards for the well received So Much. Her third release Uneven Hill focused on original writing and dramatically broadened the scope of her sonic world. Calling For Rain in 2006 brought together all the previous elements to create a hybrid of jazz and pop which became her lasting artistic identity. Largely a collection of carefully curated covers, it was nominated for a Best Vocal Jazz Juno. One of her original tunes on the album won the Colleen Peterson Songwriting Award from the Ontario Council Of Folk Festivals.
The late Chris Dedrick, revered leader of 60’s chamber pop faves The Free Design, heard Lori on the radio and came to her next gig with an open invite to collaborate. His signature ornate brass and vocal arrangements adorn Buttercup Bugle. It’s release in 2007 was celebrated with a live show featuring a 12 piece band and broadcast nationally on CBC Radio. This album also initiated a licensing deal with a label in Japan. Around this time Polaris Prize winner and Arcade Fire member Owen Pallet asked Lori to contribute her distinctive vocals to the second Final Fantasy album.
2011’s That Certain Chartreuse presented an eclectic selection of covers by artists as diverse as Gordon Lightfoot and King Crimson, all creatively arranged by herself and her band of stellar Toronto musicians. The music prompted jazz vocal giant Kurt Elling to acknowledge in an interview that Cullen was one of his favourite new singers. Shortly after the album was released she put her career on hold and in 2013 Lori and composer/visual artist Kurt Swinghammer became proud parents.
Ron Sexsmith, who has been a huge fan of Lori’s for years, suggested to Kurt Swinghammer that they co-write an album of material specifically for Lori to sing. Sexsmith Swinghammer Songs is the result of a very inspired collaboration, and sure to draw attention, as always, to her voice.