KRISTEN LEE MORRIS
Hillbilly Blues (Eagle Records)
Choogling may be where this album kicks off in the guise of 1978 Fender Telecaster. And rather well too with its solid-footed blues drive made for some old but powerful sedan that would no more be seen in a tony inner-city shopping centre carpark next to a buffed 4WD than it would entertain the notion of one of those scented things you hang from the rearview mirror to soak your car in faux pine and stinky jasmine.
It’s fair to say that 1978 Fender Telecaster works for a living, and does some serious lifting here too as it takes its chugging rhythm out for a one-hand-on-the-steering-wheel/one-hand-feeling-the-breeze cruise.
Before that, opening track, Cowboy, has its lean just far enough back to let you look down your nose at the fact “There’s a cowboy, every corner/Down on Brunswick Street”, but not so far back that you can’t put a dismissive sneer into every stride made past the men-in-clean-hats. And track three, I’ve Got Nothing But I’m Free, slows that blues down to something like a working day’s grind where the solo refuses to work as a cleanser, preferring to add another layer of sweat to the day.
Right then, Hillbilly Blues has planted its flag if the title itself hadn’t told you as much. And halfway through the album, Dirty Snake slides into your DMs with a slinky and dusty turn which sits somewhere between Texas and the Bayou and reminds you that on the rootsy album he made with his partner, fellow singer/songwriter Sarah Humphreys, as Eagle & The Wolf, Morris showed he could do licentious pretty well.
But hold on one hot minute. The beard, the hat and the pearl-button shirt in that mocking promotional collage are trying to tell you another story here. Not a competing story; a complementary one. One where Morris may not be one of those Brunswick Street cowboys but he don’t mind some cowboy music, uh-huh.
So, yeah, She’s Got Me Where She Wants Me puts some fuzz on that guitar and gets into a low-rise grind in its climax, but it’s principally in the shape of a small town/payday lender/this drought stuffs everything up Sweet Sweet (Country) Jane. Then there’s Run Baby Run, which is as dry as a hollowed out river bed and as quietly sad as a man watching life unbound just out of his reach; and the table set for one of Give Me Something, which dispenses with all instrumentation bar a guitar and harmonica and hurts exactly as you would expect it to.
Morris isn’t just about the sads though. Eagle Sun Wolf Moon slopes in on pedal steel and curls up on the bed with an old-and-forever flame; the weary The Still is wearied by the need to defend a choice of a lover, not fight for her return; and the classic country ballad, Magnolia, ends the album with a sigh of connection and the (possibly misguided, but there it is) sense that that connection can be rekindled.
When this album was sent out, Morris wondered if we all might have had our fill of beardy blokes with tatts. After all there’s been one just recently in this space in JP Harris (CLICK HERE). But I reckon I can fit in another beard-tatts-blues-country combo on the turntable roster.