What a beautiful world we'd be living in if Joel Osteen or Pat Robertson or Rush Limbaugh used Gurf Morlix as musical director. His new Last Exit to Happyland is full of aching songs full of deep humanity and decency as well as head-shaking social accusations and knife-to-the-throat post-love observational depression that may end up in alcoholism or a suicide before he gets to the end of the song. And Patty Griffin singing "I got nothin', I got nothing' left to lose" on the harmonies doesn't exactly make you want to put the razor away. This is the rawest emotional stuff I've heard in what has already been a great year for this kind of music.
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The same can be said for "She's A River," another achingly beautiful ballad with some of the best lost-love poetry ever committed to round plastic. "She's a river and she's already gone, she's a river headed further on, water seeks its level running to the sea, she's a river, she's flowing away from me." With his minimalist, as-few-notes-as-possible style, Morlix can milk as much emotion out of tunes like this as anyone practicing the craft these days. Morlix's duets with Griffin on "She's A River" and the mournful "Voice of Midnight" (and "I Got Nothin'") are square in Buddy/Julie territory, as good as it gets. Take a dry handkerchief, you'll need it.
Anyone who's ever listened to Morlix's producer work with the likes of Ray Wylie Hubbard, Mary Gauthier, Slaid Cleaves, or Lucinda Williams knows Morlix places the drums squarely in the mix, anchoring the whole ship. Certain drum sounds are a Morlix trademark. "Drums from New Orleans" pretty much explains the clicks in Morlix's brain that cause him to do what he's been known to do with drums. "Hard Road" is Morlix at his rocking best, burning down the road, eating up years and life. He says it's about his little brother, but it's really about those of us who always seem to miss the last exit to Happyland.