Saturday, April 12, 2008

Gurf Morlix/Sam Baker/ Blake Thomas; April 12, 2008; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

What a pleasant surprise. When I was asked if I would be interested in hosting Gurf Morlix and Sam Baker in the basement, I knew Morlix better as a producer and guitar player than as a songwriter and knew absolutely nothing about Baker, but the response from the folks on my mailing list was positive so I accepted. I had bought “Cut & Shoot” years before and was, um, unimpressed, but when his latest release “Diamonds & Dust” showed up in the mail as part of a press kit I was definitely charmed. The songs were better and his voice had deepened to a Jon Dee like growl.

The second surprise was the crowd. The first person showed up at 7:45, even though doors were listed as being at 8. From that time on, there was a steady stream of people in the front door and down the stairs until shortly after 9 we had to call it a sell-out. It was one of the best listening crowds I’ve had. At least at first, as the night went on everyone got a little drunker and a little more boisterous. Even so, the crowd was never less than appreciative, even if some of them never did figure out how they had ended up seeing a well-known producer in my basement.

Honestly, I guess it was almost impossible not to wonder. Morlix is probably best known as Lucinda Williams’ guitar player and producer of her first two records, but his resume goes well beyond that- he has worked with a veritable who’s who of Austinites, Texans and beyond. It’s easy to understand, his laid back demeanor combined with a keen musical sense probably makes him very easy to work with. He and Baker shared the night, trading tunes between them, each adding guitar and backing vocals to the other’s songs. Morlix stuck mostly to material from “Diamonds” and a few requests, while Baker split between his recent release “Pretty World” and its predecessor “Mercy”. Baker did most of the talking, spouting facts he had learned about Madison on his I-Phone randomly throughout the night, and telling the stories behind many of the songs he played.

Morlix seemed content to let the songs speak for themselves, “Killing Time in Texas” was a highlight, while “Dig a Hole” could have been separated at birth from Jon Dee’s “Tie a Knot.” He did take the time to tell the story about the latter, and it turned out to be a grisly one. It tells the tale of an outspoken Atheist who was kidnapped, murdered, dismembered and buried in the desert. The amusing chorus, “the head bone was next to the hip bone,” while bringing to mind the children’s skeleton song actually describes how the bones were arranged. Baker’s style wasn’t as easy to pin down, most of the time his sing-song talking delivery reminded me of Todd Snider with a dash of Townes VanZandt thrown in when he actually sang. Of all his great lines about hard-luck folks and their down and out lives, the one that jumped out at me was from “Trualay.” The white trash heroine of the tale hits the road where “they drove all night and drank all day” before ending up “in Texas in a family way.”

Of course, that ill-advised combination for road trips was how tonight’s opener Blake Thomas misheard, and eventually rewrote, the Blueheels road trip song “Tennessee.” Blake had an attentive crowd this evening, many of whom hadn’t seen him before, and as far as I could tell he charmed them all. One of them was the producer of Wisconsin Public Television’s “30 Minute Music Hour” (which was plugged a half dozen times with great enthusiasm by Baker) Andy Moore, and perhaps even more notably his wife. Moore asked me that night if I thought Blake would want to record a show, you can see it sometime in June on TV or right now on the Internet. As much fun as the ongoing Tuesday nights are at Mickey’s, a quiet attentive audience always brings out the best in Blake and he sounded particularly amazing on songs like the slow burning “Kaitlyn.” He wasn’t all good behavior of course, and for some reason he felt the need to tell the BB gun story and how he’s pretty sure he still has a BB lodged in the back of his leg. All of tonight’s musicians stood out through both their songs and their stories, and that made for a great night indeed.

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