The Upshot: A kickass Americana buffet stuff with folk-rock, bluesy shuffles, country gospel, rockabilly and ‘50s-ish pop, plus some of the most twisted storytelling you’ll hear all year.
BY FRED MILLS
“I’ll be The Captain, and you be Tennille/ I’ll play second fiddle, honey, and you can tell me how it feels/ To be such a big shot/ To be so unreal…” So sings Morgan Christopher Geer, frontman to gonzo roots outfit Drunken Prayer, in a burst of uncommon lucidity brought on, no doubt, by the looming reality of how life just didn’t turn out the way he’d planned things—or at least pictured ‘em. It’s one of a dozen hard-twanging barrelhouse romps in which Geer ruminates upon inconvenient truths, ephemeral pleasures and hard-earned lessons, from the hell-raising wench of, er, “Hellraiser” to the dubious benefits of stoicism in “What’s Gonna Happen” to the way romance resembles the proverbial ball and chain in “Love Looks Like A Master.”
It’s a twisted worldview that simultaneously feeds Geer’s celebration and his despair; this is the guy slumped beside you at the bar, one moment bending your ear about all the shit he’s been putting up with and the next urging you to get involved with some outrageous scheme of his, and while your instincts scream at you to get as far away from him as possible there’s something so subversively appealing about his line that you can’t help but get reeled in. The songwriter, who splits his time between Asheville and Portland, has been compared to both Tom Waits and Warren Zevon, and rightly so: he’s a natural storyteller who has more delicious turns of phrase in a single song than most artists come up with on an entire album. Backed by the kickass rhythm section of Lance Wille (drums) and David Wayne Gay (bass), formerly with the Reigning Sound, and abetted by plenty of guest talent that includes the Sadies’ Dallas Good, Geer essays with effortless aplomb a host of Americana styles, with folk-rock, bluesy shuffles, country gospel, rockabilly and ‘50s-ish pop all making appearances over the course of his four studio albums to date. Here, the aforementioned “Love Looks Like A Master” is the album’s clear winner, what with its irresistible waltz-time motif, anthemic chorus and George Harrison-esque guitar break, but every song on The Devil & the Blues (save 45 second goof “Johnny Paycheck’s Cocaine”) could be a mixtape standout.
Tellingly, the record’s full title here, based on the Jon Langford cover art of Geer duking it out with Satan, is “I Intend to Comprehend the Devil & the Blues,” which suggests Geer is a man constantly at war with his own worst inclinations. Well, ain’t we all! But while he is a wise man to attempt to hold those urges at bay, as we all know, nobody ever got any decent song material by listening to that little angel on his shoulder. It’s the other shoulder that provides the good stuff…
DOWNLOAD: “Love Looks Like A Master,” “Echo of a Heavy Slamming Door,” “What’s Gonna Happen”