Plucking and strumming a multitude of unplugged strings, and singing his songs of everyday living and the new dustbowl experience, it’s safe to assume that Morrison’s primary influences aren’t the landfill singer-songwriters currently clogging up daytime radio with their cloying odes to perfect love and tearful loss. His bio makes claim to a musical education steered by Doc Watson, Norman Blake and Rory Block. Add to those names others like Guy Clark (his early songs in particular) and the delta musings of Kelly Joe Phelps, and the consequences are old school country, folk and blues, though sung with the voice of the rural white working classes, rather than cotton fields and urban decay. Not the easy references one would expect from a young singer-songwriter, just turned 24 years old. Old-Timey & New-Fangled sounds like it was recorded before a small but fervent crowd, though it may just be the reaction of his excellent Family Band acknowledging the end of songs with natural enthusiasm. They’re a talented bunch, and none more so than Morrison, whose vocal dexterity and songwriting prowess matches his musicianship. The material, original as far as I’m aware, is brilliantly evocative of times past and lives up perfectly to the album’s title. I hope there’s UK dates somewhere on the horizon. www.myspace.com/cahalen
Most of us players should be humbled by Cahalen Morrison, the 24 year-old Seattle-based guitarist, singer, blues and old-timey interpreter, and multi-instrumentalist (six-string fingerstyle, claw-hammer banjo, mandolin, and lap slide guitar for starters). If not humbled, we are curious; how did the former New Mexico resident attain this kind of musical maturity at twenty-four? His biography explains somewhat: Amongst red rocks, dry soil, and clear sky, Cahalen Morrison was reared on Hot Rize, Doc Watson, Norman Blake and Rory Block while running around in a diaper, trying (at times unsuccessfully) not to fall into patches of prickly pear. Now, he’s got the ears for roots music. Hopping effortlessly from fingerpicking to mandolin, clawhammer banjo to lap slide guitar, Cahalen’s writing encompasses everything from punchy political commentaries, to soul warming serenades, branching out into instrumental rags and fiddle tunes, yet still retaining his subtle musical signature.
Though only 24, he is quite well traveled, having toured nonstop for 2 years after his debut 2008 release, Subcontinent. In November of 2009, Cahalen released his second record, a live 16-track album entitled Old-Timey & New-Fangled featuring his father Dave Morrison on guitar and fiddle, Santa Fe fiddler Andy Cameron, and Jenny Fisher on harmony vocals. OT&NF was recorded live on August 14th, at the historic Western Jubilee Warehouse Theater in downtown Colorado Springs. I hear a bit of early Jonathan Edwards in the Morrison’s vocals. He sings confidently, with a warm and deliberate inflection that brings authenticity to his original traditional and old-timey styled ballads. The voice of Jenny Fisher doing harmonies is superb; never taking front stage, but adding beauty to the lyrics and filling the spaces with her soft, textured vocals. The acoustic instruments seem to be amplified at least partly by microphones, giving this live album truly superb traditional vibes. No twang here. The backup musicians do a stellar job of supporting the songs, complimenting the vocals melodies, and leaving them out front so we immerse ourselves in the Morrison’s songwriting and delivery. There are few albums on the blog that I recommend more highly than Morrison’s Old-Timey and New Fangled. Buy your copy now.