The Morells were last sighted almost 20 years ago, with 1982’s Shake and Push, which garnered rave reviews for its blend of roadhouse swagger and bluesy roots. They’ve spent the years between hidden under the moniker of The Skeletons, but with their new release, you can see that nothing’s really changed. Saxophonist Jim Martin makes way for organist/vocalist Joe Terry, but the band’s sound is untouched.
Throughout, The Morells tear through really obscure covers. Lieber & Stoller, and Roy Buchanan are probably the only well-known names here. The only original, “Don’t Let Your Baby Buy a Car”, is a little farther over the country side of the fence, but fits in pretty well with the Morells’ style. Primarily, they deal in a rockabilly-informed brand of bar rock, taking their cue from Ronnie Self. However, the two songs that they borrow from Self don’t retain much of their rockabilly edge. “Hair of the Dog” feels more like a Jimmy Buffett slice of morning-after blues, complete with a ramshackle chorus. “Home in My Hand” benefits from a fat slab of garage rock bounce. It is other songs, like “Rock Bottom”, “Hot Rod Baby”, and “Double Crossin’ Liquor” where you can really smell the pomade in The Morells’ hair.
Other cuts take on other styles, but never lose the feel that The Morells have played plenty of shows in places with chicken wire around the stage. “Last Nite I Spent My Money” boasts some fine chicken-pickin’ guitar as it reminisces about buying way too many rounds, while “Don’t Let Your Baby Buy a Car” is a talking country lament of someone’s woman moving out. “Mom’s Got a Headache” has some really nifty boogie-woogie piano playing. Heck, there’s even a couple of kazoo solos on the album.
What’s the end result? The Morells are top-notch musicians, with a very deep bag of influences. They remind me a lot of NRBQ. One reason for that is that I don’t think it’s possible to catch the band’s true vibe in the studio—that their live show is probably leagues better. The Morells is an able-bodied effort, and as musically proficient as you could ever find in bar-rock. As much fun as The Morells are obviously having, though, little of it comes across as very inspired or with much edge. Only the album’s instrumental closer, “Roy’s Blues”, escapes this trap by truly smoldering in a fitting tribute to Roy Buchanan.
// Notes from the Road
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