Out Here

Reaping the reward

The Road
Mike Morgan and the Crawl
Black Top Records

Most local blues bands have repertoires so routine, so predictable, that hometown fans find little reason to hear them more than a time or two a year. An exception is Mike Morgan & the Crawl, partly because Morgan writes prolifically and--just as important--variedly enough to make his band worth seeing again and again; today's rewards are no less valuable than tomorrow's. And so Morgan, with glee, regards with triumph the fact that he's in Dallas more often than not. Happy is the musician who can make a living playing his back yard.

So do not think that the title of Morgan's latest, The Road, is a blues version of those meanderings on musicians' itinerancy that Ian Hunter used to pen; Morgan's sixth release with the Crawl presents the same unpretentious, beer-soaked blues and R&B the band has created ever since 1990's Raw & Ready. Instrumentally, they cook their music almost the same as so many other metroplex blues bands--the sauce just tastes better. Credit Morgan's burly but austere guitar sound and the songwriting; reward the strong rhythm section (long-term bandmate Marc Wilson on drums and Johnny Bradley on bass) and, most notably, singer-harmonica player Lee McBee, who never seems to want to stand out, but does so anyway--the man's all stage presence, the spotlight shining brightest on him even when he's playing in the corner.

The Road opens with a title track that plays like a highlight reel: a hard chunka-chunka beat, McBee's raspy voice drawling a laconic lyric, and tough musicianship. It's become almost pejorative to say a harp blower sounds like Little Walter--hell, you were supposed to sound like Little Walter till six months ago--but McBee does...sometimes. He has a comparably beefy attack (the notes are so solid, you couldn't drive a truck through them), but his technique's considerably different: Where Walter filled every space, McBee uses the notes sparingly, discreetly, like someone who doesn't want to waste a drop.

Of the 11 tunes here, Morgan's "Bad Luck and Trouble" and "Born To Boogie" are stellar, walloping blues tunes (McBee wrote the latter, which has a jaunty, '50s feel underlined by Brantley's upright bass and Morgan's tube-amp guitar sound). Morgan shows off his skill with the Southern-style soul ballad on "You're Gonna Miss Me Too," sung with brown-eyed soul by the blue-eyed McBee; the track also features a little praise-God organ from noted B3 ace Riley Osborne. The bongo-laden "Wino #2" is an off-the-beaten-track bonus, reminiscent of the "beatnik blues" favored by James Harman and Buddy Blue. Add in the jazzabilly instrumental "Alexandria, Va." and Chuck Berry's auto-philiac "No Money Down," and you've got a dynamic and fresh enough disc that proves why, even in today's overcrowded blues marketplace, Mike Morgan and the Crawl are worth attention. Time and again.

--Tim Schuller

 
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