Gurf Morlix has produced many of the who's who of Americana, including Lucinda Williams, Robert Earl Keen, and Ray Wylie Hubbard. He's added guitar to works by Buddy Miller, Jim Lauderdale, Peter Case and others, and crafted a low-key solo career starting with 2000's Toad of Titicaca. Morlix sings with a bit of Buddy Miller's moan and a bit of Tom Waits' grit, but his confessional exhalations are more the parched tone of a dusty back road than the worn sidewalks of the bowery. He sings here with Patty Griffin, Barbara K and Ruthie Foster, but most impressively, he sings with his own instrumental accompaniment, as he plays everything but the drums (which, as on 2004's Cut `n Shoot, are handled perfectly by Rick Richards).
In less capable hands, a one-man-studio-band can sounds manufactured, with the artist's secondary instruments slaved in tempo and mood to their primary axe. But Morlix approaches each instrument as a native, insuring each instrument's sound has individual depth and character as it's blended into an organic band sound. If you didn't know this was the product of overdubbing, you'd be inclined to think it was recorded live - such is the interplay between the "players." The arrangements and production show the sort of sensitivity to Morlix's songs that could easily be sacrificed in a self-contained project. It's not unusual for a writer to hear a song's musical concept in his or her head, but it's much rarer for the writer to successfully play and produce that sound into reality.
The album opens with a one-time killer's path from armament to remorseful condemnation, freeze-framing the fatal bullet's path, examining it in lyrical detail and tagging it with the conscience-nagging chorus "one more second, was all it woulda took / another thought, a closer look / the thunder cracked, and blood ran cold / one more second, mighta saved my soul." Morlix's facility for description stocks "She's a River" with a dozen metaphors, and the allusive path of "Hard Road" is set upon with the memorable introduction "I set out on my own, look out here I come / Whatever there might be, I was gonna get me some / Pure gun powder, I was ready to explode / The fuse was lit, I was out on the hard road." That same road may be the one Morlix resolutely walks into the teeth of Hurricane Katrina in "Walkin' to New Orleans," and the Crescent City's blues is heard in the restless soul, low-twang and wailing backing vocal of "Drums of New Orleans."
The edge in Morlix's voice works just as well against lighter backings, such as the Shel Silverstein flavored "Music You Mighta Made" and the closing duet with Patty Griffin, "Voice of Midnight." His songs are shot through with fatalism, but their tunefulness and Morlix's inventive production keeps this from devolving into complete darkness. This is a beautifully crafted album from a thoughtful singer-songwriter whose producer and musicians (all of whom happen to be Morlix himself) add perfect musical color to his limited, but deeply soulful, vocal range. 4-1/2 stars, if allowed fractional ratings. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]