Gurf Morlix, who has worked as producer, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist for some of America's greatest artists, is getting set to release his own fifth album, Last Exit to Happyland on the Rootball Records label on February 17, 2009.
Tempting as it may be, don't just judge Morlix by the company he keeps, even if it does provide a fine starting point: Lucinda Williams, Warren Zevon, Patty Griffin, Michael Penn, Buddy Miller, Mary Gauthier, Tom Lauderdale, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Robert Earl Keen, Tom Russell, Jim Lauderdale and Slaid Cleaves, to name but a few. Instead, a listen to Last Exit to Happyland should demonstrate why his blue ribbon associations have led Morlix to a similar level of excellence as singer/songwriter and artist in his own right.
"If anybody is still looking for a candidate to replace Robbie Robertson of The Band, look no further," writes Henry Cabot Beck in Amazon.com. "Morlix can write, sing, produce and play nearly every instrument and has a bottomless range of American musical idioms from which to draw."
The new album is something of a tour de force for Morlix's gift as a musician and producer as well as his finest moment yet as a writer and singer. He plays everything on it but drums, which are ably handled by Rick Richards, who has manned the kit on many of Morlix's productions in recent years. Icing the cake are Patty Griffin, Barbara K (of Timbuk3) and rising Texas singing sensation Ruthie Foster, who contribute harmony to a number of tracks. As with all that Morlix has produced and played over the years, every note and creative touch ultimately serves the songs. And his trademark grit, soulfulness and authenticity suffuse the album representing the "muddy," as Morlix calls the junction where varied strains of American roots music mingle, at its truest and finest.
Last Exit to Happyland is peopled with characters "headed to reckoning day," as Morlix sings in the propulsive opener, "One More Second." The swampy bomp of "Walkin' to New Orleans" finds a Crescent City resident heading home into the deadly wind and rain of Hurricane Katrina, while the haunting country-blues "Crossroads" reveals new wrinkles in Robert Johnson's fateful meeting with the devil. Whether it's longtime lovers at the "End of the Line," a traveler on a "Hard Road" or an outcast who laments "I Got Nothin'," Morlix captures their emotional essence.
Prior to embarking on his own career, Morlix was likely best-known for his 11-year creative partnership with Lucinda Williams as her guitarist, band leader and backing vocalist on two of her classic albums, Lucinda Williams and Sweet Old World. His production work with Williams led him to produce multiple recordings for Ray Wylie Hubbard (four albums), Slaid Cleaves (three albums and an EP, with a fourth about to be released), and two apiece by Robert Earl Keen and Mary Gauthier, as well as discs by Tom Russell, Ian McLagan, Butch Hancock, Hot Club of Cowtown, the Setters (Alajandro Escovedo, Michael Hall and Walter Salas-Humara) and others.
And now with Last Exit to Happyland, Morlix feels he has come into his own as an artist, songwriter and performer. "I'm really enjoying songs making my records and going out and playing," he notes. His ever-expanding touring circuit has already taken him across North America and to Europe and Japan.
As Richard Skanse noted on CDBaby.com, "More Morlix as any Gurf connoisseur can tell you, can only mean one thing: cool."