Alpha Cat - Pearl Harbor, February 14, 2003
Conjuring images of mid-’60s San Francisco with slightly hallucinatory guitar riffs borrowed from the Jefferson Airplane and The Byrds, Alpha Cat is a NYC-based, mixed gender consortium providing a vehicle for singer/songwriter Elizabeth McCullough’s poignant tales of soul-searching and life lessons learned. Aside from the appealing, woozy to mid-tempo rock arrangements, nostalgic lyrical and instrumental overtones sift through these 13 songs, adding to the intimate feel of the album. The child’s dialogue on the intro to “Monsters” and sampled AM News radio leading into “Sometimes When I Wake” give the impression that you’re hearing Elizabeth share secret entries from a journal long put aside and forgotten. “Straw Hat” especially has a wearily beautiful, consoling sadness. While her vocals often emulate Beth Orton (her obvious influence), fans of Sheryl Crow and Rita Coolidge will be drawn to McCullough’s mature, assertive vocal style. Pearl Harbor is recommended if you like any of the artists cross-referenced here, as well as modern singer/songwriters like Beck and Joseph Arthur. By Gail Worley
(I have to make a note here and say that I had NEVER HEARD OF BETH ORTON until I saw this review! So clearly NOT an influence! But I of course checked her out, and ended up buying Central Reservation! Same with Joseph Arthur, never heard of him, but after this, I really did like him! e.)
NEW YORK ROCK
In the vein of the old New York City stuff - Patti Smith, Velvet Underground, Television - Alpha Cat's approach to music shows more depth of thought than many of the teenage hucksters out there right now. Lyrically, the songs are rich, as the various stories unfold and play out... At the forefront are the vocals of Elizabeth McCullough, lazy and cutting like Patti Smith's, at times ethereal along the lines of Joni Mitchell or a quiet Chrissy Hynde... Like a poetry reading, she weaves her voice, alternating between a matter-of-fact speaking tone and low-key approach to singing, and one could easily imagine her sitting at a table, smoking a cigarette, and delivering the goods. by Bill Ribas, New York Rock: March 2003
Upon listening, it's apparent that the well from which Alpha Cat songs generally spring is longtime photographer McCullough's understanding of how equally both the absence and presence of light define the world we see. What else is clear is that this is a genuine exploration of the terms of emotional survival.How do you take an image like Pearl Harbor and make it positive? According to Elizabeth McCullough, aka Alpha Cat, in imagining the song: 'it occurred to me that this place was named Pearl Harbor before it was bombed, and that must be because literally, there were pearls there. And I tried to imagine what it might take to get back to this place being about treasure, rather than war and destruction.'
As for the inception of Alpha Cat; in the mid-90's McCullough ran into James Mastro, whom she had photographed while he was in Hoboken, NJ stars the Bongos. She asked him to listen to some songs, and he happened to be in the market for photos for his current group, Health and Happiness Show, which at that time included Television guitarist Richard Lloyd. McCullough and Lloyd got to talking, with the result being that Lloyd played on her first studio demo. The Mastro connection also led to a friendship with Television bassist Fred Smith, who agreed to produce a new demo, which turned into the CMJ Nationally charting ep, 'Real Boy'. Smith went on to produce, with McCullough, the full length Pearl Harbor, as well as a track for the Lauren Ambrose starring indie flick 'Swimming.'