Tempting as it may be, don't just judge Gurf Morlix by the company he keeps, even if it does provide a fine starting point: eminent musical artists like Lucinda Williams, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Warren Zevon, Ian McLagan, Patty Griffin, Robert Earl Keen, Michael Penn, Buddy Miller, Mary Gauthier, Tom Russell, Jim Lauderdale and Slaid Cleaves, to name but a few. Instead, listen to Last Exit to Happyland, his fifth solo album, and understand why his blue-ribbon associations as a producer, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist have led Morlix to a similar level of excellence as a singer, songwriter and artist in his own right. As critic Henry Cabot Beck notes on Amazon.com, "If anybody is still looking for a candidate to replace Robbie Robertson in The Band, look no further. Morlix can write, sing, produce, and play nearly every instrument (mostly stringed) and has a bottomless (albeit muddy) range of American musical idioms from which to draw." Through more than four decades of professional music endeavors, Morlix has distinguished himself with his innate musicality, exquisite taste, keen creative instincts, and well-honed ear for not only songwriting but also the elements that bring songs to their fullest fruition. And now, on Last Exit to Happyland, "I've found my voice, and my albums just keep getting better and better all the time," Morlix says. "I'm really proud of these songs and this album." The album is a showcase for Morlix's gifts as a musician and producer as well as his finest moment yet as a writer and singer. He plays everything on it but the drums, which are ably handled by Rick Richards, who has manned the kit on many of Morlix's productions in recent years. Icing the cake are Patty Griffin, Barbara K (of Timbuk 3 fame) and rising Texas singing sensation Ruthie Foster, who contribute harmony vocals to a number of tracks. As with all that Morlix has produced and played over the years, every note and creative touch ultimately serves the songs. And his trademark grit, soulfulness and authenticity suffuse the album, representing the "muddy," as Morlix calls the junction where the varied strains of American roots music meet and mingle, at its truest and finest. Last Exit to Happyland is peopled with characters "headed to reckoning day," as Morlix sings in the propulsive opener, "One More Second." The swampy bomp of "Walkin' to New Orleans" finds a Crescent City resident heading home into the deadly wind and rain of Hurricane Katrina, while the haunting country-blues "Crossroads" reveals new wrinkles in Robert Johnson's fateful meeting with the devil. Whether it's longtime lovers at the "End of the Line," a traveler on a "Hard Road" or an outcast who laments "I Got Nothin'," Morlix captures their emotional essence. "Drums From New Orleans" takes listeners back to the radio signals that inspired Morlix as a youngster, and he pays tribute to his late friend and musical cohort Blaze Foley also the subject of Williams' "Drunken Angel" on "Music You Mighta Made," which echoes Foley's musical and songwriting style. On "She's a River," a beloved woman becomes a wonder of nature. And the stark "Voice of Midnight" examines life's final moments in a perfect grace note to a collection of songs that compares favorably to any other created by the many artists who have called on Morlix to help them make the most of the their music.
The body count s lower on this one, Gurf Morlix quipped darkly a few months back when describing his just-finished follow-up to 2007 s outstanding, death-steeped Diamonds to Dust. And sure enough, apart from the victim in One More Second a gripping crime-of-passion tale recounted in terrifying slow motion and a pair of tributes to late friends (Blaze Foley on Music You Mighta Made and Ian McLagan s wife, Kim, on Voice of Midnight ), the living outnumber the dead on Last Exit to Happyland. But happy-go-lucky it s not; Last Exit is even bleaker than its predecessor and every bit as powerful. The aforementioned One More Second and Voice of Midnight, which open and close the disc, are the real highlights each hitting the heart and gut from completely different angles. But there s no shortage of other great moments here from the spooky wailing of Ruthie Foster throughout Drums from New Orleans, to the bittersweet, soaring chorus of End of the Line. Best of all, though, is Morlix s wicked, razor-sharp wit, which hits the bull s eye on the final line of Crossroads : I know some people who sold their souls to the devil/and they don t sound nothin like Robert Johnson. On second thought, better change that body count to off the charts. --Richard Skanse, Texas Music Magazine
Gurf Morlix s Last Exit to Happyland 02.10.2009 | Gurf Morlix is the musical equivalent of a Swiss army knife. He produces, writes, sings and plays just about every instrument known to man. If his name doesn t ring any bells, there s a good chance that you haven t been looking through the liner notes of your favorite albums by Slaid Cleaves, Mary Gauthier, Ray Wylie Hubbard and of course Lucinda Williams. His latest album, Last Exit to Happyland calls on the skills of a few musical friends but easily stands on its own as a thoughtfully created piece of work. The album, filled with songs about people headed for the reckoning day, opens with the tune One More Second before moving to the first of two New Orleans inspired songs. Walking To New Orleans is the story of a Big Easy resident arriving home to the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. The other is Drums of New Orleans, to which Ruthie Foster adds her sublime wailing. Music You Mighta Made is a tribute to Morlix s buddy and Austin folk legend, Blaze Foley with mutual friend Barbara K of Timbuk3 providing supporting vocals. Ian McLagan and his late wife Kim (who passed away in a car accident in 2006) also get a heartfelt nod in Voice of Midnight which features Patty Griffin. Patty, who also appears on two other tracks, She s A River and I Got Nothin , offsets Gurf s gravel-filled growl perfectly. Last Exit to Happyland will be released on Rootball Records on February 17. --Uncommon Music - uncommonmusic.org