When Paddy and I had our second road trip to the USA, things did not get off to a good start. Our plane was delayed in leaving Heathrow and we missed our connection in Chicago. Luckily, we were bought a drink at the bar in O’Hare airport by a guy who liked our accents and wanted to thank us for our country’s support in Iraq. Paddy and I communicated telepathically and decided that our hatred of the war was outweighed by our love of beer and we kept our opinions to ourselves. The beer went very nicely with a rich chilli con carne that we both ate whilst waiting for our plane. A few hours later we arrived in Ft. Worth without our luggage. We were told to try again the next day whilst it was located. This wasn’t ideal as we were heading West the next day. We rented a car and checked into our motel. During the night I had bad stomach problems as the chilli took revenge and I was barely able to move the next day. This meant that Paddy was at a loose end but he took the opportunity to explore Dallas and retrieve our luggage. At 4:00 a.m. on the next day, we were both awake and decided to start our trek, heading West. We were aiming for Amarillo but in the dark of a Texas morning, my map reading skills were deficient and we got lost. After about 4 hours we were barely 100 miles from Ft. Worth and a substantial breakfast was called for. We ended up going through Oklahoma which added 100 miles to the journey. We arrived at our motel in the twilight and having driven the last stretch, I forgot to check whether or not the car’s headlights would switch off when the ignition was switched off. In the morning, the car’s battery was dead and we had to wait several hours before someone from the rental company came to jump start the car. Amarillo is not nearly as exciting as it sounds and once the obvious joke about asking the way has been made, there was little to do. By this time, Paddy had become an expert at killing time in Texas.
Gurf Morlix was born in Buffalo in 1951, moved to Texas in 1981 and moved to Los Angeles in 1985 where he joined Lucinda Williams’ band. For a few years they were all earning virtually nothing from playing but, just as he decided to quit, Rough Trade offered Lucinda Williams a recording contract. Gurf Morlix offered to produce the eponymous album which was a huge critical success. Mary Chaplin Carpenter covered “Passionate Kisses” and Roo and I went to see her at The Victoria Palace Theatre for a matinee performance on a Sunday afternoon with Lucinda Williams as the opening act. It was a dynamite performance and Gurf Morlix’s guitar work was extraordinary: not flashy but restrained, precise and perfectly pitched. Lucinda Williams’ follow up album, “Sweet Old World” was even better but was to be the last of her music that Gurf Morlix was involved with as they fell out badly during the recording of “Car Wheels On A Gravel Road” and haven’t spoken to each other since. Interestingly, that album contained a song, “Drunken Angel”, which was about the musical life and shocking murder of Blaze Foley with whom Gurf Morlix had recorded in Texas in 1981.
After leaving the Lucinda Williams band, Gurf Morlix has recorded 12 solo albums and produced many fine albums including one of my all time favourite albums from Texas, “Mercy Now” by Mary Gauthier.
The opening track is “Killin’ Time In Texas” which starts simply with a strummed acoustic guitar and Gurf Morlix’s scratchy, deeply emotional voice singing a song which might be a song of regret from a death row inmate. It’s incredibly beautiful and moving with Patty Griffin adding a sensational harmony to the chorus.
Gurf Morlix has said, in interviews, that he doesn’t seek to record perfect versions of his songs. He thinks that small errors make the sound more interesting. Neil Young has a similar story about the first time that Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young recorded “Woodstock” for “Deja Vu”. He claimed that the first version they cut live was terrific but Steven Stills insisted that it could be better. Each part of the recording was re-recorded until, finally, even the vocals were “improved upon” which destroyed the magic of the original recording. Gurf Morlix put it like this: “There’s an art to knowing how much in tune something needs to be. When it’s all perfectly in tune, it sounds too correct and therefore is a little uninteresting to me. Things being a little wobbly can create tension, sometimes in a really good way. There are things on Beatles’ albums that are pretty far out of tune, but never far enough to make it unpalatable to the public.” A good example throughout this album is Gurf Morlix’s voice. It reminds me of Brent Best from Slobberbone. It’s certainly not a perfect voice but when he sings, the emotion is entirely believable. In that way, he also reminds me of Neil Young.
“Blanket” is a wonderfully slow, sad song about a homeless man, down on his luck, asking for just a bit of support – a blanket. It could also be interpreted as being about someone suffering from depression. Patty Griffin’s harmonies are spectacularly sympathetic.
The title track of the album is a jolly, upbeat rock song with lyrics which start by describing our journey to maturity as an optimistic child but then explains that everything and everyone collapses to dust in the end. The cheery sound belies the pessimism and cynicism of the words.
Gurf Morlix was asked what inspired him to record the album and his reply was “What happened was that friends of mine started dying.” “Windows Open, Windows Close” describes the deaths of three of his friends along with his musical partner Blaze Foley, his father and his mother in a hard hitting brutal way. This is not easy listening. Finally, he ponders on his own legacy, should he die soon. He concludes that he has no regrets.
“Worth Dyin’ For” sounds like a mid tempo country song but, inevitably, the lyrics tell a dark, sinister story. A couple in love, on the run, in trouble and prepared to die for each other. The great guitar solo is an example of the uncluttered sound that pervades this album. Less is more.
The final song is “Need You Now” and is a low key end to the album. After all the trouble he’s been through and all the heartache he’s caused, he knows that he is in love and he “needs you now”. As he contemplates death, he understands that he is not alone. Possibly, this is a positive way to end this dark, magnificent album.
A year later, Gurf Morlix released “Birth To Boneyard” which is another way of describing the journey from diamonds to dust. The album consisted of instrumental versions of every song on the album. Surprisingly, it works very well and without the doom laden lyrics provides a more uplifting listening experience.
Paddy and I ended up having a brilliant holiday. Santa Fe, The Grand Canyon, Flagstaff and Venice Beach were so memorable that the time when we were killing time in Texas was quickly forgotten.