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RB Morris

Take That Ride – 1997 (Oh Boy)

Reviewed by Dallas Clemmons

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CDs by RB Morris

While it isn't unusual for country lyrics to refer to Hank Williams, it's the rare song that makes reference to James Agee. Morris's title song does both, connecting both men's deaths (in the backseats of cars) and then, importantly, connecting their lives (as artists who couldn't separate life from art). Morris, who has written a play about Agee and edited a poetry journal, displays his literary interests (another song mentions "Leaves of Grass") throughout, but never with the preciousness that often mars such "scholarly" music. Many cuts flat-out rock, and Morris and his band also show great skill at blues and gospel sounds.

But this Knoxville native combines all those styles to come up with his own brand of country music, close in sound and spirit to Lucinda Williams' (who sings backup here) hybrid "Americana" roots music. Morris writes exceptionally strong songs, and his one cover, Robert Mitchum's "Ballad Of Thunder Road," becomes here not the campy exercise one expects, but a fresh and harrowing tale of a boy who, perhaps like Agee and Williams, tried to outrun the devil and lost. John Prine duets with Morris on the moving "Roy," which appeared on a Bloodshot compilation last year.

Prine's Oh Boy records has given us one of the best releases of the year.