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Prodigal Son

Houston's Cory Morrow returns home in his V6 workshop on wheels

When Cory Morrow's emotions overcome him, he takes off in his red '94 Suburban. "When I'm pissed off or even happy," he says, "I just get in the car and drive."

It's a Texas thing.

Well, where else but in the country's second-largest state can you just burn rubber and not run out of territory before you get your thoughts situated? Or before, at least, you get a ticket?

Though Morrow has been beyond state lines recently, the native Houstonian returns to his hometown this weekend. He'll be performing at Fitzgerald's, which marks only his second appearance in town this year. He calls Austin home now, but the 27-year-old has played all over the South. Wherever Morrow goes, he says, he is always writing songs. "I always try to keep a pen or something on me." His two self-released CDs, 1997's The Cory Morrow Band and 1998's The Man That I've Been, have their share of road songs.

Morrow says he does his best writing when he's on the road. Literally. One never can tell, after all, when a good tune is about to happen. As Morrow speeds along in his Chevy truck, the Texas landscape -- its oil derricks and breathless sky and rusty pumps -- unfolds willingly in front of him. It's all inspirational as hell. "If I had lived to travel outside of the state, whatever goes through my head at the time would be different," he says. "Because a lot of what I write has to do with experiences. I've dated strippers before, you know, so that makes a funny song ['Big City Stripper']. A lot of that stuff happened in Texas."

"Sometimes I get a good song in my head," he says. "And I'll just pull over."

The finished product, once Morrow shifts into "park," will eventually be turned into one of his many Texas-style songs, such as "Texas Bound Train" or "Drink One More Round" or "Texas Time Travelin'," which is an episode, set to a skipping beat, of Morrow's cruising in a Cadillac. The automobile becomes his time machine; the distance traveled on the asphalt becomes time. Morrow sings: "We'll go back when time was young / And you learned the trigger of a gun / Or you'd be six feet on your way." Now, that's Texas.

But these numbers aren't "Texas" tunes just because they're filled with lyrics about all things Texas, like guns and money and big attitudes and decent-looking strippers. They're Texas-y because they say Texas in their music. The arrangement of Morrow's sound is straight-ahead C&W, full of lap steels and brushed drums and soft bass lines. It's ice-house-shit-kickin' C&W. "Shania who?" C&W. The type of C&W most Nashville folk have either forgotten about or refuse to listen to anymore.

"People don't write like they used to. I don't know what they're trying to do," says Morrow of the artists coming through Music City nowadays, "but I hate it."

Morrow puts his disdain for Nashville to song in "Nashville Blues," a melodic gripe that appears on The Man That I've Been. Funny thing is, this song would have fit perfectly on KKBQ's rotation. There's nothing exceptionally non-Nashville about it. Even the chorus follows the Nashville tradition of hat-tipping. Morrow sings: "I like George Jones, Willie and Waylon / I think Kris and Merle are songwritin' saviors / Townes Van Zandt, he died too soon." The song is also four minutes long. Almost to the second. Just right for those moments between giveaways or contests or commercials.

Irony is a commodity today. So is a song like "Nashville Blues" an example of what could be called postmodern country, a shot at making it to Nashville by slamming Nashville because a lot of people think slamming Nashville is a cool?

"Lot of people think the only way to make it happen is through Nashville," Morrow says. "But I don't believe that's true.

"And I'm not gonna sell my soul or my rights to make that happen. I want to do it without selling out. And I think I represent the opinion of a lot of people in Texas who believe the music should turn around."

Morrow is old-fashioned, though he understands the things that inspired Hank and Willie and Merle aren't the same things inspiring country musicians, and country folk, today. For one thing, these icons didn't have to worry as much about airplay (or lack thereof). Morrow's Lone Star sound is contemporary but also true to its roots.

"There's a lot of tradition here," in Texas, he says. "People love it and are proud of it. It's all about being a big state. Everybody in the state is proud of it.

"I guess what I'm trying to say is you don't hear other people saying, 'It's as big as Nebraska.' They don't do that. They say, 'It's as big as Texas.'

"Texas is big, and we're proud of it. No other state can make that claim. I don't think other states have that same kind of pride."

Or, at least, Morrow's kind of pride. The cover of his first CD is made up mostly of a large image of the Texas flag beneath a geographical outline of the state itself. Not many people would mistake this record, by the looks of it, for something rap or rock. Which is Morrow's intent.

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