Sarah Morris – Ordinary Things
It’s easy to believe performers and writers like Sarah Morris have disappeared from the scene. While she toils in relatively obscurity, far less talented artists earn countless hollow accolades and employ teams of accountants to tally their concert receipts. Country and roots radio have slid faster and faster into pure pop formats usually distinguished by a penchant for melody and token “rustic” instrumentation. It’s easy to believe that a time and place where artists wrote, sang, and arranged their own material without a bevy of collaborators beefing up any lack of creativity from the central figure. Hailing from the land of Bob Dylan, the Twin Cities Minnesota native offers up ten solid tunes here that make fantastic use of her light rock, pop, country, and blues influences.
The feathery touch of country pop opens the album with “Brighter”, an earnest but undoubtedly sincere paean to children and motherhood. It’s fascinating to detect the sultry, low-watt growl underlying her impressive vocal performance and it lends additional gravitas to her already affecting voice. This sort of melodic, hook-heavy approach is a hallmark of Morris’ work on Ordinary Things, but songs like “Sway Me”, “Nice Girl”, and “The Strong One” combine elements of rock and blues to outstanding effect. Morris’ voice excels on the slower, balladic material, but it probably goes even further when she takes on darker hued songs. In particular, “Nice Girl” percolates with restrained power and a few dollops of outright contempt. The arrangement utilizes Hammond organ in such a way that tracks like this accumulate added muscularity and heft.
Her ballads leave their mark as well. “You Still Have Me” begins as a purely acoustic track notable for the particularly strong marriage of voice and accompaniment, but has surprising variety and depth. The brass introduced on this track helps elevate the song to another level. The clever meshing of light rock and country on the album’s final songs, “Careful, Careful” and “Hope, Sweet Hope” give the impression of an album coming full circle. After the stylistic hopping around marking the album’s first half, the ending settles into a compelling synthesis that wraps things up thoughtfully and points the way towards Morris’ musical future.
With each new outing, career-wise and album-specific, Morris communicates a growing sense of her artistic powers connected to her consistent, almost withering honesty. She can turn a phrase and her writing talents have only seemed to improve, but her voice remains the main event of anything she touches. It’s a remarkably flexible instrument and her instinctive feel for phrasing is far beyond her years. Ordinary Things doesn’t announce itself with horns and a parade, but it seeps into your consciousness track by track until, by album’s end, you are thinking of listening to it once again.
9 out of 10 stars.