Woe be the tired vocabulary of a roots music critic. After waxing eloquent over dozens of Americana records, I have found that my wellspring of superlatives has nearly run dry. Recently, perhaps because of lack of inspiration or sheer laziness, my favorite descriptor – gritty- has been flying from my fingertips with alarming regularity. I have used the term to describe guitar work, vocals, harmonica playing – anything that sounds, well, gritty.
So, with the thought that it would make me a better writer, I recently resolved myself to leave my cliché money phrase behind. I would expand my vocabulary. I would delve deeper into the English language. I might even use a thesaurus.
And then I got Ken Will Morton’s recent release, and my plan was shot to hell. It’s title?
I was paralyzed. Not by the record – it’s fantastic. But the idea of getting through a review of a record called True Grit without using my most beloved of all rootsy adjectives stymied me. This review begged for it! Like Job, I was tempted to acquiesce, to cave, to renounce my faith and take the easier, grittier path.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I embraced Morton’s songwriting with a gritless mind. What I found was a down home elegance, where acoustic guitar subtly dances with harmonica, organ, and electric guitars over a distinctly country rock backbeat. Morton – who has escaped my notice, somehow, despite releasing four previous solo records – writes distinctly American music, with hints of rock ‘n roll, blues, and country, all tinted with the folksy songwriter spirit of his lyrics.
Trial and tribulation are common fodder for the roots musician, but Morton captures the weary spirit better than most. Morton sings of perseverance on the title track, languishing self doubt on "Gambling Man’s Blues," redemption on "On My Feet Again," and acceptance on "Don’t Feel Bad For Crying." And Morton couldn’t have done better when naming this record, as True Grit is spot on for this collection of songs – Morton does well in reminding listeners of both the grit that gets us down and the grit that pushes us to overcome.
True Grit, in all its grittiness, is out now on Sojourn Records.