Songs in the key of life: Singer-songwriter Cindy Bullens released an album 
    inspired by the death of her daughter
Songs in the key of life: Singer-songwriter Cindy Bullens released an album inspired by the death of her daughter

A Little Help From Friends

Cindy Bullens has earned a reputation as an artist whose concerts are a one-of-a-kind experience, but the rock-and-roller's upcoming performance as part of an E-Town taping will have its own unique significance. The Denver area has played an important role in the development of her vision over the past year since she released her album about the loss of her eleven-year-old daughter, Jessie Bullens-Crewe, to cancer.

In the liner notes to her 1999 album, Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth, Bullens describes the devastation she experienced in the wake of Jessie's death. "I felt my own life end," the lines read. "I couldn't imagine that I could ever again be a productive human being. That I would ever again write a song, let alone record an entire album, was the furthest thing from my mind."

But Bullens had been making music all her life, at least as far back as age ten, when she took her older brother's neglected guitar away from him. She had toured with Elton John, singing and arranging his backing vocals (it is Bullens's work you are singing when you "woo hoo" along with "Don't Go Breaking My Heart"), and she already had three major label releases of her own: 1979's Desire Wire (United Artists), 1980's Steal the Night (Casablanca) and 1989's Cindy Bullens (MCA). She'd received two Grammy nominations, one for her lead vocals on the Grease movie soundtrack and another for Best Rock Vocal for the single "Survivor," off of Desire Wire. Always a hard rocker, Bullens's once shimmery sound had settled into a simpler, refined approach to songwriting over the years. Her supple voice also deepened and grew more forceful. After her third release, she performed with everyone from Bob Dylan to Lucinda Williams to Joe Cocker. Her songs found their way onto albums by blues artist Sarah Brown and R&B great Irma Thomas and went over well in Nashville, where they were performed by the likes of Radney Foster, Bill Lloyd, the Dixie Chicks and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.


Cindy Bullens, with David Wilcox. E-Town taping, 7 p.m. Sunday, January 9, Boulder Theater, 2032 14th Street, Boulder, $11, 303-786-7

Samples from Safe as Milk

"In Better Hands"
(256K aiff sound file)

"Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth"
(276K aiff sound file)

"I Gotta Believe Something"
(245K aiff sound file)


"The concert itself was the hardest gig I've ever done. Also the most profound. Those people, listening to my songs about the death of my own daughter, in agony with their own horror and grief. I knew that I had lived three years now beyond Jessie's death and that they were still so raw. I talked to them -- I can't even remember now what I said, but we were there, all of us with open hearts and raw emotion. I can't tell you how grateful I am that I did it. It was an extremely powerful experience for me."

"Open hearts and raw emotion" describe the very essence of what makes this music so special. With Bullens's voice always plainspoken and real and the stark music complementing that honesty, Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth may be one of the most uncompromising albums ever, and yet it strikes such universal chords that it is hard to imagine an audience that wouldn't respond to it. At virtually every one of her live performances, the sight of folks waiting around stage doors to have a few words with her is common, and Bullens is happy to take time out for those who want to talk.

Over the past year, Bullens has used her music to benefit cancer centers, hospices and local charities. She has even used her songs for workshops at the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Care Physicians Conference. But the Littleton correspondence and ensuing concert may be the most vivid evidence that the grief and healing this music tackles is charting its own path.

After all, Bullens doesn't really see it as her show at all. "I feel more and more like I'm just part of a bigger picture, a bigger plan. And Jessie's in control. I'm just showing up."


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