by Andy Warrener
Hats off to Rounder Records for their release of The Lynn Morris Band’s “Shape of a Tear”. A finely crafted album full of Smoky Mountain, bluegrass music. They’re not your typical quartet, bass, banjo, mandolin, vocals. No, Lynn Morris is a musician who learned to sing and not a singer who learned to play. You’d be hard pressed to notice though. Her voice is custom tailored to bluegrass and she goes further than to simply keep time with her rhythm guitar. She straps on a claw-hammer banjo for track 4 (Goodby to the Blues). Ron Stewart whose wild solos(on banjo) are heard throughout, jumps on the fiddle for that one. The album leads off with, “Good Love” by Mary Flower. It’s a great choice for track number one. It opens up the foot-stompin’ vibe. It doesn’t go too wild but it lights up a few times with banjo solos. “When trouble rocks that boat of life, you just hang on tight and cry.” She’s talking about good love. It’s one of those songs where everyone circles up and one fella or a couple step in and do-si-do. The Buck Owens classic “Gonna Have Love” comes next and let me start by saying that the strings on a pedal steel vibrate on the same wavelength as the human heart. We haven’t heard the last of Junior Brown in this one but he introduces himself, sublimely. This is one of those songs to listen to in the morning, on the way to work, it outta get your heart a pumpin’ and set you off in a mindset nice and friendly. I think it goes a line or two too long for the recording but I’m sure it’s a hoot to listen to live. “Shape of a Tear” has got to be one of the most wholesomely beautiful songs ever recorded. Lynn takes Hugh Campell’s masterpiece and delivers it right and true. “He waltzed around the kitchen, hummed a melody into her ear, and the love that she always felt for him, appeared in the shape of tear.”. One of the most emotional experiences of my life was explaining the song to my wife of two-and-a-half years. It’s a tender story about a husband and wife of 20 years. How he pretended to forget her birthday, only to surprise her when he got home with, “roses and presents so fine”. Lynn’s delicate guitar takes us to the next verse, which goes on to describe the evening together and the kind things he says to her and how she “likened him to a warm Winter’s quilt, to keep out the cold wind and rain”. Stewart’s banjo and the touching chorus take us further into the last verse. The words could not hit more true, “Their love was as pure as the morning, and sure as the passing of time.”. It’s so heartfelt it almost takes your breath away. You could only follow up a song like that with something lighter and more upbeat. “Goodby to the Blues” is exactly the medicine. It’s not too wild and crazy but it’ll shake you up after experiencing, “Shape of a Tear”. I think it’s one of the more pedestrian songs on the album but it’s hard to skip over. “I Wish it Would Rain”, is probably my favorite one on the album. It has that balance of composition and delivery. The fiddle just dances around the edges, the banjo alternates. I catch myself singing this one, more often than not. I’m sure Nancy Griffith would be proud to hear such an appropriate rendition. It’s one that’ll get at least your toe tapping. The upright bass is complemented by the guitar in this one and it works to effect. Somehow all of these talented musicians coalesce and form something that highlights everyone and detracts from no one. It’s really quite something. It leads into the song I use when I want to get some cardio. “Road Rage” is one of the most boot-stompin’, hee-yawin’, giddy-uppin’, dirt kickin’, hoe-downs of a song you’ll ever hear. I have no idea how they can pluck them strings so fast but the banjo opens up like your ridding on horseback at a gallop. The Lone Ranger. It repeats and tells a story all by itself. The fiddle cuts in with its story and the pace quickens a little more and woo-wee does that fiddle have something to say. The banjo takes back over on a new level and plays like its trying to one up the fiddle. Then a hollow-bodied sound jumps in. I can only assume it’s Lynn’s guitar. The credits are a little less than specific in this particular instance and I lack the privilege of having seen them in concert. Anyways, the guitar jumps in and is played just like a banjo; sounds like someone with six or seven fingers is playing. Well, the guitar plays its bit, the banjo jumps back in and we’re back on the horse. Thank God it only last for three minutes, I’m out of breath halfway through trying to keep up. “I’ll Take Them With Me”, is a sentimental M. Willborn song that aside from a catchy banjo solo and some nice fiddle work, is a skip for me. Willborn’s lyrics are great, his voice is functional at best. When it’s in juxtapose with Lynn’s, it comes out pretty flat. “Lonesome Highway Blues” is a bit of a duet with Willborn more backing up Lynn. This works well and the tune has some authentic flavor to it. The fiddle flirts with us while the banjo and bass drive us down the road. This song is more like driving down a dirt road in a pickup. “Shoulder to Shoulder” is the other foot-stompin’ one on the album. Boy, if you could keep time with your feet to this one, you’d shed weight like water. Lynn adds her own verse to this Dallas Frazier tune and the banjo has a more tinny, metallic sound to it, more high pitched. It chases the rhythm like a pair of squirrels courting each other. “Baby, I’m talkin’ ’bout the lies you told.”. “Move it on Over” is a little juvenile for my taste but I can see myself shaking my but with my baby daughter while Ron plucks away at the mandolin. I swear that guy plays everything. The most message-laden tune by a leg is, “Don’t Neglect the Rose”. Emma Smith’s song is transcendent. The metaphor of a rose in your garden is so right on. It represents your relationships, “…it could be you mother, sister or brother, husband, wife, or little child…”. That is we need to “show it your love, everyday. It will bloom for you in all its beauty and it will not fade away.”. Lynn’s rhythm guitar should be noted. She segues us out with a little humming and the album ends and leaves you feeling like you just stepped away from Thanksgiving dinner table. Only it doesn’t end. Lynn comes out with “I Know What You’re Talking About” to send us off. Listening to this makes me feel like I’m in church. But a cool, funky, hip church that on Sunday nights like to just sing and praise about, rather than sit in a pew. This one is like driving down a dirt road in a horse-drawn carriage. I love to hear some old gospel music coming up blue(grass). The Lynn Morris Band encompasses the breath of country/folk/bluegrass music while presenting a very contemporary edge. It good, wholesome music with amazing musicians in harmony. Their music is very accessible to audiences of any age or ethnicity. They’re something to check out.