Something I Saw Or Thought I Saw

Bill Morrissey

Philo Records, 2001

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


"This moonlight in New York will not go away I sit in this hotel and tonight I'm just too drunk to pray... She said that she'd always love me But that she might not always stay..." --"Twenty Third Street", Bill Morrissey

There are a lot of glib statements I could start this review with. I could tell you how Bill Morrissey is one of the best artists I'd never heard; hell, I could say that he's the best artist you've never heard, and I'd probably be right. I could tell you about a Grammy nomination, or nine CDs of work, or a lot of things.

But the most important thing I can tell you is this: when Morrissey sings the lines above, the first lines of music on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Something I Saw Or Thought I Saw, chills run down my spine. He's good. He's a storyteller, a master of musical snapshots along the lines of Harry Chapin or Shawn Mullins. (In fact, my first listen to this album resulted in me deciding that either Shawn Mullins owns every Bill Morrissey CD in existence, or divergent evolution exists.)

This is the fun part of this job. I get to discover people who take my breath away. Add Bill Morrissey to the list. He's part folk, part blues, part country, with an idiosyncratic voice that's equal parts Tom Waits with better diction, Burl Ives with more dry realism, and Johnny Cash with New England rather than Tennessee in his drawl. His lyrics are brilliant, poetry in motion, and he plainly loves words for the sake of words. (No mistake, I suspect; his first novel was published in 1999).

The musicianship on the album is spare but elegant. Morrissey's a competent guitar player, but it's the supporting musicians who really flesh Something out and make it what it is. Marc Elbaum's tenor sax on "Buddy Bolden's Blues", Cormac McCarthy's harmonica, Johnny Cunningham's violin, David Henderson's heartbeat bass, and Kent Allyn's keyboards blend seamlessly into a tapestry of wonderful counterpoint to Morrissey's master storytelling.

More importantly, Morrissey knows when to strip the sound down; one of the best tracks on the CD, "Traveling By Cab", is just Morrissey and Henderson and a set of biting, incisive words. It's hard to pull out tracks for special note, but I think "Mobile" may be one of the best songs ever written; "Harry's Last Call" is heartbreakingly cold as a New England nor'easter; "Moving Day" is a single moment of time cut out with a lyrical scalpel and pinned to a card like a dead butterfly; and "Will You Be My Rose?" is a surprisingly gentle, loving close to the album, a touch of hope after a long series of dark nights.

Something I Saw Or Thought I Saw is beyond most superlatives. Morrissey is a troubadour, a bluesman of the north Atlantic, and I'm currently saving every penny I have to buy his other eight CDs. If you buy one singer-songwriter CD this year, buy this one. The only reason it doesn't get an A+ is we don't give the darn things.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2001 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Philo Records, and is used for informational purposes only.