Showcasing the best in poetic story-telling, truthful artistic representation, and all round musical prowess, this album – originally set to be called “Trump Songs for Leonard Cohen” – gives audiences a relevantly Cohen or Dylan-esque playlist of uplifting darkness and provocative reflections on modern life.
Keith Morris & the Crooked Numbers offer up the live band sound, organic and skillful, creative and colourful. Bringing together live drums, jazz-soaked piano, a meandering bass line, a gritty and characterful leading voice, among other things, this collection begins with the lyrical outpouring of The Future, and it continues along a similarly expressive pathway.
The music has a stylish feel to it, classic yet fresh in the way that it relates to the listener. The use of vocal harmonies present a choir-like backdrop, adding an element of Gospel to the sound, brightening it up thought simultaneously enhancing that overall haunting atmosphere that is the inspiration for the project.
The high energy of the opening song falls away from the mellow and smooth What Happened to Your Party. A lot of lyrics fly past you on this album, sometimes far too quickly for them to really sink in on first listen. Songs like this, however, create a certain space around the leading voice, the pace is gentler, and the words really connect. Keith Morris’ poetic and clever approach to expression makes for something refreshingly metaphorical and quite mighty in its treatment of current issues – the occasional, literal and clear cut reference reminds you of the central sentiment.
A major key emerges for Thousand Mile Stairs, the mood is lifted, the leading voice is softer, and simple, short snippets of melody make up the verses and set the scene accordingly. From the chaos of the opener the songwriting mellows out considerably for a while, hitting with impact initially then calming down in unison with you, really allowing these ideas to settle in. The album’s title track takes things in a seductively jazz-like direction, musically speaking – the language use, however, is much more unsettling or shocking. The juxtaposition works beautifully.
The musical journey of this project is as detailed and thoughtful as the lyricism. Songs like Canebrake really lay out a specific ambiance and aura that creates around you the perfect arena in which you can follow and consider the story-line. The song grows to be quite intense, but not by means of the usual rising instrumental presence or volume, just in the rather hypnotic way in which the lyrics and the melody come through. 67% follows and strikes up a certain set of ideas or memories that ride alongside of the sudden high energy and vibrancy of the music with unexpected power.
Certain moments really bring you back to the central concept, the reality shared, the life that is and simultaneously isn’t. The sense of pain is quite overwhelming. Charlottesville By Name follows and conceptually keeps your head in a similar place. Musically though, the sound is delicately joyful, again existing in stark contrast with the harshness of the lyrics. The song is stunning, and unquestionably real. It’s important to confront or talk about or deal with these huge issues, using art to do so is often one of the most effective ways to truly connect with other people. These songs undoubtedly serve a purpose, and at the very least they get you thinking about these things when you perhaps hadn’t for a while.
Things stay fairly acoustic and gentle for the penultimate song of the project, The Narcissist. These songs are the sort worth listening to several times over, a lot of the ideas are over powered at first by the skill and passion presented musically. That’s not a bad thing at all, the music is superb, the melodies and performances are fantastic, so by all means – enjoy the experience, reflect on the lyrics that do hit hard, and then later take the time to delve back into it all for the full effect. Everything has been extremely well thought out and it pays to listen in.
In My Secret Life welcomes back the beautiful chorus of voices to see things out with a huge feeling of togetherness and strength. The lyrics provoke thought again, though the mood of the music takes the reigns for the most part. It’s a superb way to write, and the sound is incredible – easily up there with the best of them. This song leaves you with the quiet echoes of ideas lingering in your mind. It’s a meaningful and effective way to finish, it feels personal, for the writer, yet it connects to those inner demons of the listener at the same time. The contrast between the weight of the hook and the delicacy of the verses makes certain the melody and the lyrics have impact. The second verse even more so holds tight to your attention and your mood.
As suggested, the album bears listening to more than just once or twice. Keith Morris is doing what few artists dare to do these days, and with the help of the band – he’s doing it in an entrancing and memorable way.