We’re a bit confused by this album. Not the music, that’s quite swell, but the release date. There are mentions of this disc going back a year to September 2000 but it arrived in our mailbox a short while ago with a press release proclaiming a release date of September 2021. It seems that initially this was an independent release but it has now been picked up by a label. This is really just a roundabout way of saying that we haven’t sat on Mr. Morris for a year, no sir, we’re bang up to date.
Anyhow, RB Morris has a fair amount of well-known fans willing to proclaim his genius and while this often isn’t any guarantee of excellence, on this occasion, they are right. He comes from that dusty troupe of well-travelled songwriters who can tell a tale and evoke vibrant images and scenarios through their words and music. Butch Hancock and Guy Clark come to mind almost immediately and there’s also a fair whiff of Roger Miller’s loose-limbed narratives. Morris says this is his “dustbowl album” but he’s not trying to emulate Woody Guthrie, rather, he’s reciting a set of songs inspired by his “early road trips out west.” He has surrounded himself with a top class band who are able to match their playing with the various environs visited. There’s the menacing highway blues of Montana Moon – a song which rivals Dave Alvin, the sly and somewhat louche fatback guitar fuelled Me And My Wife Ruth and the Dylan meets Cash mash up of That’s Just The Way I Do.
Morris truly inhabits the songs also. He sounds quite insouciant on the bouncy brilliance of Six Black Horses And A 72 Oz. Steak, a road song about a 1000-mile trip which tips into odd dreams about Audie Murphy alongside other weird encounters. The Zen like Missouri River Hat Blowing Incident (a contender for song title of the year) finds Morris chasing the titular hat and realising his travels have truly started. There’s a sense of wonder also and it’s highlighted by the spare ambient and cosmic country sounds conjured by the band at times. The title song glistens with atmospheric pedal steel and there are several instrumental interludes which serve to thread the various narratives together. Overall, the songs and preludes knit together perfectly, the album can be listened to as a travelogue with the songs acting as the stops and encounters on the way, and Morris proves that he is indeed quite an excellent writer and performer. Well recommended if you missed it last year.