Brian Culbertson Delivers Passionate Performance and Profile in Live From the Inside

Live From The Inside
Brian Culbertson

Verve, 2009

Album Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

By Phillip Martin

Any doubt that Brian Culbertson could entertain in a live performance quickly whittled away when I saw him in the Chicago Theater this past July. With the same charm and funk-infused swagger I saw as he played the keyboard backwards onstage, I found in his performance in Live From The Inside, a film by Joey Castro and CD produced by Culbertson, released in 2009.

Album photography by Daniel Ray and Kurt Weis. Album artwork design by Kazumi Matsumoto. Photo of Live From The Inside CD by Phillip Martin.
Album photography by Daniel Ray and Kurt Weis. Album artwork design by Kazumi Matsumoto.
Photo of Live From The Inside CD by Phillip Martin.

Overall, my rating of four hearts reflects the entire DVD and CD package. I enjoy some of the backstories about Culbertson’s young adulthood and lifestyle; a plus for me is the bonus material along with the song tracks on the DVD. The CD has become one of my most-played during my hour commute back and forth from my current night job.

Right from the get-go I know I’m in for a good show when the first song on the DVD starts with the groovy flowing “Say What?“, originally from Culbertson’s Come On Up record in 2003. This first song sets the tone for many of the other upbeat tracks later in the DVD, some of which are also featured on the CD.

What I like most about the album is Culbertson’s collaboration with what is arguably an all-star cast of musicians from the worlds of smooth jazz and R&B. These guests appeared to gel together on “Go,” which was a new song released with Live From The Inside:

Other than Culbertson’s father Jim, notable musicians on this album include:

  • Lenny Castro, who has provided percussion for several smooth jazz artists
  • Sheldon Reynolds, who played guitar with Earth, Wind & Fire
  • Eric Darius, a sax player
  • Dave Koz, a sax player, who lead the house band for The Emeril Lagasse Show
  • Michael Lington, a Danish sax player
  • Eric Marienthal, a Grammy-award-winning sax player
  • Ray Parker, Jr., who wrote and performed the theme song to the movie Ghostbusters

The special guest cast of musicians add more zest to a hot set of pieces from Culbertson’s discography. Found in an exclusive interview in the special features section, the keyboardist from Illinois explains how he met some of these musicians who have earned star recognition. In particular, Culbertson mentions how he met Eric Marienthal and Ray Parker, Jr. and how he routinely invites them to play sax and rhythm guitar pieces, respectfully, on his albums. Most of the other musicians have collaborated with Culbertson in his past albums as well.

Other than the large cast who play along with Culbertson, I enjoyed the backstories featured on this completed project. These stories took me to the roots of his upbringing and young adulthood, which added a nice human interest charm that I enjoyed.

By watching the DVD, I learned how he and his band might play around 100 shows on tour each year. I learned it takes a lot of passion and love for music performance to play shows and tour city to city on often two hours of sleep each night.

In another backstory segment, I got to see images of Culbertson’s hometown of Decatur, Illinois (which I believe is about relatively the same size as Chillicothe, the closest large town to me in Ohio). I saw his parents’ home, his father, and his high school. However, I didn’t get to fully see why Culbertson called Decatur a great place to grow up in. Perhaps time restraints for the final cuts of the movie limited what he could show us. Nevertheless, I was hoping he might show us his favorite spots to go out and eat, shop, hang out with friends, or relax in the small Land of Lincoln town.

Later into the film, Culbertson did show some of his favorite places he would visit in other locations, like his favorite pizzeria in Chicago. In particular, I enjoyed his favorite mountain drive near his studio in LA he shared with us. It is on this drive that he takes time to recharge and relax away from recording. This really connected with me because I too enjoy taking in picturesque views of nature; it wasn’t until I attended a Christian retreat in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado in the summer of 2013 that I learned to appreciate nature from a new and more simplistic perspective.

Only one thing disappointed me about this album, and it isn’t a big issue: I wondered, “Where is Michelle?”

Michelle, Culbertson’s wife, sadly appeared missing from most of this album. Only in the opening sequence did she appear to be walking alongside Brian wearing sunglasses on the way to the performance studio at Capital Records. Other than this seemingly short cameo, Michelle was no where to be found. Now she is also a performer like her husband, which may explain her absence. She is a vocalist who goes by the stage name Miceala Haley. Maybe she was busy with her own projects in LA at the time of the album’s recording? I was just hoping we would get to meet the wife of Brian Culbertson and see a nice profile piece about her. I would have liked to hear about the couple’s romance story and how they met. (When Brian showed us around his old classrooms and session rooms at DePaul University, he briefly reflected on his eyeing his future wife during a concert he put on there as a student.) I would have liked to hear and see how Michelle supports Brian and how she constantly drives him to succeed in his projects — this would have been nice because Brian does list her and thanks her for her support in the liner notes of several of his albums. Perhaps a consolation for Michelle is that she appears to sing supporting vocals for Brian’s A Soulful Christmas (Verve, 2006) and Modern Life (Mesa/Blue Moon, 1995) albums. She also appears in a few of Brian’s more recent video blogs on YouTube.

To conclude my review, I’d like to share my song picks from Live From The Inside.

My two favorite songs on this album, “Hookin’ Up” and “Let’s Get Started,” appear later in the DVD. Culbertson first recorded these clean and upbeat songs on his 2005 album It’s On Tonight, an album that conceptualizes excitement in a romance.

I also enjoy his duet with Dave Koz on “All About You.” I recently found out he and Koz co-wrote the song, from his 2001 Nice & Slow album. On this edition of the song, Culbertson and Koz play together with nearly no other supporting instruments, which I thought really gave the song a nice romantic feel to it.

Other popular songs fans might enjoy on this album are “Always Remember,” “Come To Me,” “Back In The Day,” “On My Mind,” and “So Good.”

Also, I wish Brian Culbertson a happy 43rd birthday today.

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