April 2001

The Morells
Slewfoot Records SF 802
Released: 2001

by Marc Rigrodsky

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ***

[Reviewed on CD]They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. Perhaps that is true. But in the case of the Morells’ new self-titled record, well, you can judge the album by its cover, which is a picture of Stonehenge with the rocks spray painted, graffiti-style, with the band’s logo. The Morells are the clown princes of country/rock, taking up the mantle of prior cut-ups like Jim Stafford and Ray Stevens. On second thought, scratch Ray Stevens; the Morells don’t deserve to be associated with "The Streak."

The band has a long history, backing up some serious and not-so-serious acts like Steve Forbert, Dave Alvin, and Jonathan Richman. Still, they are at their core a bunch of wise guys (lower case), and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as they’re funny which, fortunately, they usually are.

The album kicks off with some jump blues, "Rock Bottom," which sounds a lot like Brian Setzer without the Orchestra. "Rock bottom blues, I got ‘em." Indeed. "Hair of the Dog," is a very funny bit of Tex-Mex: "I never met a 12 step program made to fit me, so I’ll just have another shot of the hair of the dog that bit me." The song is a throwback to the time when drunks were stumblebums. Amusing, but I prefer the liquor fueled reality-angst of Slobberbone or the Old 97s, bands that can be self-pitying and hilarious at the same (For example, "what’s so great about the barrier reef?/What’s so fine about art?" ask the Old 97s in the midst of a drunken recounting of a semi-successful liquor-induced one-night stand, "Barrier Reef;" that’s humor that stings) . The kazoo solo (or whatever the hell it is), doesn’t do much for the song’s credibility either (maybe I should rethink that "Streak" thing). "Seven Days Without Love" addresses, rockabilly style, what happens to a man’s physiology when he goes, well, seven days without love. It makes one weak, among other things. I wouldn’t know.

"Don’t Let Your Baby Buy A Car" is a direct descendent of Jim Stafford ("Spiders and Snakes," remember? Recorded one of the funniest lines I ever heard in a song, "My wife ran off with the garbage man/I don’t miss that woman but somebody’s gotta empty my can"). The only original song on the album, it suggests that automobiles and relationships aren’t compatible "’cause there she goes and there you are." "Mom’s Got a Headache" reverts to jump blues. Mom’s got a headache and she needs a nap, perhaps, but it’s not going to happen with that racket coming from upstairs. "Home in My Hand," isn’t what you might think, it’s a testament to self-sufficiency. Really. "Hot Rod Baby"'s rhythm, suggesting speed, owes a lot to "Hot Rod Lincoln," and its lyrics equating an automobile with a woman’s body share the same smuttiness of T. Rex’s "Jeepster."

The Morells are terrific musicians, and their professionalism is evident in every cut. Their muscular version of "Roy’s Blues," an instrumental by the late Roy Buchanan that closes the album, makes one wonder what they could do if they decided to get serious. They wouldn’t be as much fun, for sure, and they are fun, but they’d make some damn fine music.

So if you want to laugh and rock and party, this is the record for you, this is the band for you. If you want to wallow in your depression, stay away. Hey, where’d I put that Tim Easton album I reviewed last month?