Gurf Morlix

Last Exit to Happyland – 2009 (Rootball)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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On Gurf Morlix's fifth album, the sideman/producer-turned-artist combines the lessons learned behind a band with all the knowledge he's accrued as an artist in his own right to craft a work both visceral and timeless. Morlix has a weary voice that recalls early Tom Waits and James McMurtry at his most reflective, lending itself well to his loping and contemplative story songs, which bear at least a passing resemblance to those of former musical partner Lucinda Williams.

Once again, Morlix plays nearly everything, other than the drums provided by Rick Richards. As a guitarist, Morlix plays with a slinky, swampy attitude and adds in appropriately atmospheric organ fills, giving "Last Exit's" musical foundation a particularly Band-like vibe. Perhaps most effectively, Morlix's dusty vocals are accented here by three stellar female accompanists; the angelic Patty Griffin, the bluesy Ruthie Foster and and the earthy Barbara Kooyman. Griffin absolutely soars with Morlix on She's a River, staking a claim for herself as this generation's Emmylou Harris, while Foster moans with hellhound intensity on the mournfully seductive Drums From New Orleans. Kooyman (ex-Timbuk 3) makes her presence felt on the highlight, Music You Mighta Made, Morlix's syncopated and shuffling tribute to the late and underrecognized Blaze Foley, a Texas singer/songwriter who befriended and worked with Morlix before his tragic death in 1989. "Last Exit to Happyland" clearly stands as the pinnacle of Morlix's work as a solo artist.