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Sam Baker, Gurf Morlix freeze butts off, exceeding expectations

Matchbox Theatre, Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, February 14, 2010

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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Sam Baker and Gurf Morlix continued their Freezin' Our Butts Off February tour of Alberta. A sold-out crowd took in the Austin residents on Valentine's Day night with the evening exceeding all expectations.

With an intense area following, one could be forgiven for having expected this to be a Baker concert with accompaniment by Morlix on guitar. Instead the audience of just over 100 was treated to a song swap that lasted almost 2 1/2- hours, including stories and song introductions shared by both participants. Spontaneity was obvious at almost every turn.

With each of the singers sharing 10 songs, most of the favorites were covered with a few surprises intermixed. The only complaint possible was that Baker's guitar couldn't be heard for the middle third of the show, the result of a forgotten pedal switch. This oversight simply allowed one to even more enjoy Morlix's contributions to Baker's songs.

Establishing that they would play their sad songs early - and the sadder ones later - the pair immediately connected with their audience. Baker has that mysterious and tortured poet-thing a-goin' that immediately appeals to a portion of the population, while Morlix inhabits the (well-earned) persona of the wise, instrumental sage.

Baker's expected songs were masterfully performed- Juarez, Pony, and Orphan, along with a note-perfect rendition of Waves late in the second set. Morlix's fingerpicking on this final number was incredible - he just pulled the audience into the song. Baker kicked off the second set fulfilling a request for Iron, perhaps his finest song. Prior to his closing performance of Broken Fingers, Baker made Long Black Veil his own, changing the odd word here and there. By the time the scaffold was high, his phrasing had adjusted enough that all influence Cash or Lefty Frizzell may have imparted fell aside.

Morlix also impressed. He did a couple Blaze Foley songs, most notably Cold Cold World and much of "Last Exit to Happyland" including the time-stopping One More Second. While it was apparent the audience was not as familiar with Morlix as they were Baker, all songs were very well received.

Voice of Midnight struck a powerful chord, not surprising given the date and Madalyn's Bones from "Diamonds to Dust" allowed one to consider what one is leaving behind. Most unexpected was a tear-through of I Fought the Law. While Baker had an armful of requests, Morlix satisfied his single request with a rare performance of Dan Blocker.

Closing with a page from the Blind Boys of Alabama songbook (The Last Time) the pair left the stage forgoing the obligatory encore on an excellent evening of roots music in Red Deer.