I discovered Philly’s Morning River Band thanks to the stellar job that April does over at Common Folk Music. Band member Jeffrey Fields wrote a nice tribute to Jason Molina, and also introduced the band’s cover of one of my favourite Molina songs, ‘Whip-Poor-Will’. It was pretty good timing, as the band were just about to release a brand new record, their fourth, called Abyssal Channeling. The band say that the record was “inspired equally by encounters with George Jones and Jim Beam”, and tells of “simple songs of drinking, dying, and divorce…of broken bodies, broken hearts, and broken minds”. These are songs about those men down on their luck but too stubborn to change, men doomed to making the same old mistakes and who continue chasing the same misguided remedies. You have probably gleaned by now that this is country music (see also: folk, americana), but if you were still undecided then the presence of a fiddle and a banjo will probably clear things up.
Opener ‘Sing’ staggers along to whiny fiddle, before the chorus of “We will sing”, which doesn’t exactly exude pure-hearted joy, while ‘Jacob’s Dilemma’ sounds a little more upbeat, a sort of sawdust-strewn singalong, albeit with rather pessimistic lyrics (“Love don’t last forever, cos every lover will roam”). ‘Drinking Blues No. 6 (Hard Drinking Blues)’ does exactly what the title suggests,
“Whiskey is a medicine that soothes a sober mind
smoking helps a heavy heart forget,
sleeping in a different bed each and every night
is the remedy for these regrets”
‘Morning River Raga’ parts one and two are country-fried instrumentals, all lolling guitars and deliberate fiddles, and provide a nice respite amidst the raucous tales of booze. Closer, ‘To Give Up (The Ghost)’ tells the tale of a man failing to work things out with his family,
“If the sun fails to rise
stars fall from the skies
could anything change that sad vacant look in your eyes”
You can get Abyssal Channeling digitally (as a free download!) or on a limited edition cassette (see below) via the Morning River Band Bandcamp page.
P.S. the cover art was designed by Derek Setzer.
P.P.S Morning River Band also have several alter egos, including Sunrise River Band, which is a little brighter and sparser, and Evening River Band, who perhaps emerge under a new moon to make folk music altogether darker, sludgy and doom-laden.