Sing Out! – GURF MORLIX: Eatin’ At Me

Gurf Morlix won mainstream recognition during his time as Lucinda Williams’ guitar player, musical director and producer. After they had a falling out over the band’s musical direction, Morlix moved on and became a freelance producer. Since then, he’s helmed projects by a diverse set of country and Americana artists including Robert Earl Keen, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Ian McLagan, Slaid Cleaves and Mary Gauthier, as well as his own records.

Morlix has been writing songs almost as long as he’s been playing guitar (and a dozen other instruments). Although he was reticent to share his own tunes at first, he’s released nine albums since 2000, including the current Eatin’ at Me. Morlix lives in Texas, and is identified with the Austin music scene, but he was actually born in New York state and grew up near Buffalo. His East Coast upbringing is the subject of most of the songs on Eatin at Me, a collection filled with the gritty, darkly humorous songs that have made him an underground favorite. On this album he plays guitar, bass, mandolin, mandocello, dobro, pedal steel, Weissenborn lap steel, banjo and harmonica. His pal Rick Richards contributes drums, and the result is the sound of a real, down and dirty country rock band.

This album opens with “Dirty Old Buffalo” a slow moody ballad that takes us for a car ride through a landscape blasted by the smoke belching out of industrial smokestacks. Big twangy guitars and Hammond B3 accents gives the tune a grim aura complimented by Morlix’s deadpan vocal. Richards supplies a funereal backbeat to “Elephant’s Graveyard,” a country blues that describes closing time at a bar in a working class neighborhood that’s populated by broken men who sit around staring at the walls and wondering haw they’re going get through the night.

“The Dog I Am” features a muted, icy guitar line and a subliminal backbeat, and paints the portrait of man who seems to be proud of all the bad choices he’s made in his life. Morlix puts an ironic spin on lyric with a sadly resigned vocal: “I piss where I like and I like a tree, but I’ll take a hydrant presented to me. I’ll take a dump whenever I move, wherever I am, got nothing to prove.” Things spark up, at least musically on “Dinah,” a bouncy rocker with solid bluesy guitar work. It’s got a beat you can dance to, but Dinah is just as lost as the other characters in the Morlix universe, sowing seeds of heartache as she dances around the room.

“Born In Lackawanna” takes us back out onto the smog-drenched streets of a town so polluted “you could cut the air with a knife” and shows us a few snapshots of the working class folks who are struggling to make ends meet. “Blue Smoke” closes the album with another portrait of a man trying to fight his way out of the city that’s slowly suffocating him, emotionally and physically. He’s hoping to escape in his car, but as Morlix notes, “there’s blue smoke hanging in the air and your pistons may be blown.” There’s not a lot of light in these tunes, but Morlix fills views his protagonists with a sense of compassion that offers a glimmer of light, even to the darkest scenarios.

— j. poet