A new album from Gurf Morlix is always a challenge. I never know if I’m going to like the writing, the playing, the singing or the sound design/recording best. Listening to Gurf’s newest release, Eatin’ At Me, the past couple of weeks didn’t make resolving that dilemma any easier. So I’ll come at it from a different direction and offer up that whatever it might have been that was eatin’ at Gurf enough to get him to take pen and guitar in hand and come up with this set of exquisitely crafted, performed and recorded songs – on this album, he bites right back.
There are artists that get angry at trouble (whether trouble is a relationship gone bad, or a friend who’s gone and gotten himself murdered, as happened to Gurf’s long time buddy and songwriting legend Blaze Foley) and there are artists that get blue. But there isn’t a songwriter I can think of that does a better job of looking trouble (past, present or future tense) right in the god-dammed eye and calling it out for what it is. That he does this with his own unique brand of wizened resignation and wistful humor only adds to the compelling nature of his work. Because most of us aren’t really going to kick the worlds ass over some wrong, real or imagined; and we aren’t going to jump from a bridge to end it all, or retreat forever into a pipe or a bottle either. So when an artist of integrity and insight provides a lyrical canvas upon which some of our own joys, doubts, fears and sorrows are captured and shown back to us – we listen.
Taken in conjunction with 2013’s Gurf Morlix Finds The Present Tense and 2009’s Last Exit to Happyland – with a writing ‘hiatus’ in 2011 so that he could arrange, record and play an album of his friend Blaze Foley’s master crafted tunes – I can’t think of a singer songwriter with a better 6 year run. And the exciting thing is, this album doesn’t feel like a culmination as much as a continuation of an arc that hasn’t reached its highest point yet.
Eatin At Me’s opening number ‘Dirty Old Buffalo’ pulls you down the rabbit hole of life a la Morlix in a manner so gentle it’s easy to get lost in his childhood memories of family trips to the Jersey city and forget somehow they aren’t your own. The magic of this song is the way Gurf communicates the depth of a place and an era while staying true to the voice of the young narrator who is telling us his story. Like Neil Gaiman with a six string – exploring every nuance of visible life from the vantage point of a child.
‘Born in Lackawanna’ is every bit as evocative of the weight of an industry upon a city and the lives of it’s people as Randy Newman’s ‘Burn On’ or Springsteen’s ‘Youngstown’. “You make it through high school, it suddenly gets real. You either go to college or to Bethlehem Steel’, tells a half century’s worth of life stories in one golden line. It also captures what he does as well as any singer songwriter of any era – his sadness leaves room for a warm glimpse of happiness, and his happiness leaves room for the memories of tears.
‘Grab the Wheel’ is another perfect blending of tone and texture. If George Harrison would have asked David Gilmore to sit in on a song like he did Clapton – THIS might have been the lead he played.
The moody electric and swampy ‘Elephants Grave Yard’ and the bright acoustic ’50 Years’ are wonderful reminders of how some musicians play and instrument and some use it.
Eatin’ At Me is a wonderful piece of art exploring life’s fractals and foundations, its fractions and its fullness. The songs are stories – but the breadth and depth, the stillness and the motion are masterfully conveyed as much through the spaces between the words as by the words themselves. It is the comfortable work of a mature artist who writes like he’s still reaching for just little more truth. It’s a great listen at home or on the road – can’t wait to hear it live tonight!
The Official Los Angeles Release Party for Gurf Morlix new album Eatin At Me is tonight (Friday 4/17) at McCabe’s in Santa Monica. Gurf is a writer’s writer, a player’s player and maybe the best-dammed engineer currently working – just ask Jerry Wexler. Come for the lyrics and stay for the picking!
Contact McCabe’s (3101 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica) for tickets and information.