Tennessee’s Poet of the Road, RB Morris, celebrates life, freedom, sunshine and the open road.
Release Date: 10th September 2021
Label: Singular Recordings
Formats: CD, Vinyl, Download, Stream
RB Morris likes to travel. Hailing from Knoxville, Tennessee, he’s worked all over the US and Canada – in railroad gangs, logging gangs, as a carpenter and in construction – but his heart has always been in music and poetry and, for many years now, it’s through those media that he’s built his considerable reputation. He’s released a string of albums since his 1997 debut, Take That Ride (released on John Prine’s Oh Boy records imprint) and has published several volumes of poetry, including Keeping The Bees Employed and The Mockingbird Poems – both via his own publishing company, Rich Mountain Bound.
Going Back to the Sky is a celebration of RB’s fascination with travel and the open road. Described as “A collection of vivid portraits of the colourful characters that RB has met along life’s journey,” the album combines country, bluegrass, ragtime and swamp rock to tell its tales of hope, contentment, discomfort, loneliness and thwarted love. As RB says: “I’ve always called Going Back to the Sky my ‘dustbowl record.’ Not that it has anything to do with the actual Dustbowl, it was just dusty old highway songs and stories that came from my early trips out west. A couple written on the side of the road thumbing across the country and car rides, just you and a buddy burstin’ out for the high and wide, see how far you could get, see what’s out there. My youthful adventurous education.”
The stories of the road are presented here using the restrained but highly effective instrumental skills of RB and his band. And that band is quite something… RB takes the lead with his gently strummed acoustic guitar and his (often) road-weary Dylan-drenched vocals, whilst Bo Ramsey provides electric guitar licks that are alternately gritty and crystal-clear, Greg Horne offers keening, soaring pedal steel, Daniel Kimbo electric and acoustic bass, Hunter Deacon drums, Dave Mansfield plays some exquisite mandolin and violin and Mickey Raphael completes the line-up with some deft touches of harmonica. They make a great sound together. And as for musical influences… Going Back To The Sky drips with hints of Creedence, Waylon Jennings, Dylan (particularly) and Elvis – and, if you have a liking for any of those, you’ll love Going Back To The Sky – but taken as whole, RB uses the influences to inform his very own style.
And let’s not underestimate the influence that RB Morris has earned and continues to exude in his native country. His adventures in Nashville during the 70s, 80s and 90s led to him being named as one of the originators of the Americana genre and the plaudits he’s received from the likes of Lucinda Williams – who has called RB “The greatest unknown songwriter in the country” and Steve Earle, who has admitted that “RB Morris is the reason I started writing poetry” tell an immensely powerful story of their own.
The album’s open roadscape is vividly painted by the short opening guitar and harmonica piece, Prelude 1, before things really get down to business with Red Sky, a lazy road song that provides the appetizer for the delights to come with its gritty, weary vocal, brushed drums, acoustic guitar, pedal steel and violin. Things step up a notch for Me And My Wife Ruth an amusing, slightly bluesy number that is particularly notable for the number of rhyming words that RB manages to find for “Ruth.”
Missouri River Hat Blowing Incident is sultry, swampy and ghostly – a cleaned-up brother to Creedence’s Graveyard Train, before Somewheres West, a short electric guitar passage, introduces Montana Moon, a slow-building atmospheric song that tells the story of a winter car-journey during which gas, light and heat all run low as the band slowly and progressively join in. It’s an excellent song with some wonderful touches of electric guitar to heighten the tension of the narrative.
After the tension of Montana Moon, That’s Just the Way I Do provides a welcome interlude of light relief. It’s a bright country-flavoured jaunt with life-affirming and reassuring lyrics that advise listeners to live life by doing the things they want to do, regardless of the thoughts and opinions of others, and Old Copper Penny carries on with that theme of contentment, as, to a backing of mandolin, bass and fiddle, RB expresses satisfaction with his lowly but enjoyable status in life.
Next, we travel back to the late 1950s for Once In A Blue Moon, a soft, acoustic ballad that wouldn’t have been out of place on Elvis’s debut album, before things gear back up once again for the chugging, swampy, Six Black Horses and a 72oz Steak – another tale of the road, motels and the pleasures and adventures of an itinerant lifestyle.
Life and freedom are celebrated once again in the joyous Mariachi-flavoured Under The Cigar Tree before we move on to the album’s title track – and probably its greatest highlight. Going Back To The Sky is a song that ponders the enigmatic nature of time. Its bittersweet lyric notes that we all have to leave this place at some point but also offers the reassuring suggestion that those who do depart will find themselves somewhere even better. It’s an excellent song with a wonderful backing of sublime, swooping pedal steel.
Prelude 2, another short, contemplative guitar piece provides the intro to the album’s closing track, Walking Song, a fitting farewell to the album’s central theme of the loneliness of the road. RB uses his best “weary Dylan” voice to deliver the message whilst soaring electric guitar and weeping pedal steel provide the instrumental sign-off to an intriguing, enjoyable album.
Watch the official video to Six Black Horses and a 72oz Steak – a track from the album – here: