Thursday, July 17, 2008

Travis Morrison Hellfighters -- All Y'All (Previously unpublished 2007 review)

Travis Morrison Hellfighters -- All Y’All (Barsuk)

Some folks lambasted the first solo record from the former Dismemberment Plan front man. I thought a couple of songs were precious in spots, but that’s just something that Morrison risks with his up front style. Morrison’s combo of driving music, kind of an old school emo update of Talking Heads and The Police, among others, and his straightforward lyrics can sometimes lead to cutesy masquerading as deep. That’s fine with me, since Morrison’s musical structures really get me going, and it’s nice to hear someone who is as direct as he is.

The new album, with more of a band structure, finds that Morrison is back near the top of his game, with busy percussion and unexpected hooks all over the place. He starts off the album with a reassuring tune, “I’m Not Supposed to Like You (But)”, which sounds like a typical Dismemberment Plan track, and a few others songs fall in this bag. It’s a good beginning.

Things really get interesting with the slightly funkier edge on some tracks. “I Do” is a keyboard oriented track, as an electric piano and a synth or clavinet duke it out with some fluid lead guitar work. The song mixes funk rock chords with indie pop grandeur, giving equal time to both, the melody seamlessly flowing into the Steely Dan-gone-Stevie Wonder instrumental breaks.

“Catch Up” rides a bubbling, rolling rhythm, with Morrison stretching the melody to fit the odd foundation. The song turns on a dime into a rousing chorus, with classic funk rock (think “Get the Funk Outta My Face” or “I’ve Got My Mind Made Up”) backing vocals.

Morrison shows off his wit on “Hawkins’ Rock”: “Someday I’ll sell all my money/99 cents on the dollar/buy a black dog named Apollo/that we’ll rename Zeus.” Yes, it’s an odd start, but the song combines a lot of ensemble drive with another sweet melodic hook.

The album ends on a song that sums up a lot of what’s special about Morrison’s music. On “Saturday Night”, he imbues the social swirl with a lot of importance (“the coast is clear/for one more beer”), mixing keyboard oriented early-‘80s rock with more trad guitar stuff that soars and excites.

Morrison may no longer front The Plan, but he has a plan, and it’s a very good one.

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