To call The Morrisons’ debut self titled album “long awaited” would be an understatement. For a band that’s been kicking around for well over five years (and longer if you count their previous incarnations) and has developed a loyal fanbase in the process, recorded music has been something of a rarity.
But now with the release of The Morrisons this week we can all breathe a sigh of relief. Finally we have something to fill our ears while we wait eagerly for the next round of Morrisons shows. Finally we can own the songs we’ve grown to love as we’ve followed the band since its inception.
Kicking off with live favourite “Cumberland Plain” The Morrisons establish themselves as a uniquely Australian (and for that matter Sydney-centric) bluegrass band. Singing about the working class being pushed out of areas of Sydney like “Surry Hills, Newtown, Redfern, Balmain” right up front is a nice way of declaring your intention to not fall into the American tropes that often burden the bluegrass genre in this country. It’s also a banger of a track (as the kids say) and the perfect way to suck you in.
The Australian themes continue with tracks like “Sugar Cane” (a rollicking number firmly planted on the northern Australian sugar cane fields), “Two Years In The Mines” (following the story of a refugee from the Kosovo crisis coming to Australia), “Rabbit Skin Cheques” (about a rabbit trapper), “Route March” (adapted from the Henry Lawson poem “The Route March”) and more. The Morrisons have managed to take a purely American genre and refocused it through a local lens without making it sound laboured or trite.
Firm live favourites “Ruby” and “Wild Eleanor” are highlights of the album with the band at the peak of their powers. A surprising highlight for me is the stripped back “Good Christian Man” which has so much Paul Kelly influence I almost had to double check that it wasn’t an obscure cover version of one his songs. Closing the album with the instrumental “Southern Flavour” is a lovely touch as well, giving the listener the feeling that The Morrisons are just getting warmed up and will be jamming through the night once the recording is switched off.
Stylistically The Morrisons has a wonderful live feel to it. I’m not sure how the album was recorded but all I can picture the band crowded around a single condenser microphone belting out each track in one tack with practiced ease. Each player is given their time to shine on the album with Anna McInerney on fiddle taking a lot of the limelight. Selfishly I would love to have heard more from Jimmy Daley’s mandolin in the overall mix but that’s just down to how much I enjoy his playing. When you have the best bluegrass players in Sydney together in one band that is so in sync with itself it’s hard to put a step wrong. And can I just say that the harmony singing is simply sublime.
The Morrisons is everything I want from an Australian bluegrass record – fun, engaging, emotional, tight and insanely listenable. I’m not going to lie – since I received my copy of The Morrisons just over a week ago I’ve been reluctant to listen to anything else. We may have been waiting for five years for this album but the result is something pretty special.
Gareth Hugh Evans
For more of Gareth Hugh Evans’ writing on music, check out Timber and Steel
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television