Blaze Foley's 113th Wet Dream
For his latest album, Gurf Morlix has chosen to record fifteen songs written by Blaze Foley. Foley was a fellow musician and performer in Austin, Texas who was shot dead in 1989 aged only 39. The album, while it does have its limitations, is a fitting tribute to a writer who never received recognition during his lifetime but who has undergone a deserved increase in interest in recent years.
During Foley's lifetime, Morlix was a close friend and collaborator. Foley was homeless, with a reputation as a troublemaker and an eccentric, and yet he was an accomplished guitarist, singer and songwriter. Since his death, Morlix has probably done more than anyone to keep Foley's music alive. In addition to this tribute, he has co-produced a couple of posthumous albums by Foley, and also appears in the film documentary released this year: “Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah”.
The album starts off well with the jaunty opener “Baby Can I Crawl Back To You”. “Big Cheeseburgers and Good French Fries” has the sort of idiosyncratic lyrics that feature on a number of Foley’s songs, as does “No Goodwill Stores In Waikiki”: I ain't got no dental floss, Never have seen an albatross, Never been to Waikiki, Been as poor as poor can be. It is reminiscent of some of John Prine's lighter songs, so it's no coincidence that John Prine covered Foley's “Clay Pigeons” for his 2005 album Fair & Square. Morlix turns in a good version too, and it is one of the strongest songs on the album.
The other principal contender for best song is “If I Could Only Fly”. Previously a hit for Merle Haggard, Morlix makes a good job of this as well. He drafts in Kimmie Rhodes on harmony vocals, but to be honest doesn't really make full use of her exquisite voice. “Picture Cards” is a fine ballad with a lovely piano break.
But as the album wears on – and it has a playing time of over 55 minutes – it becomes clear that the key limitation is Morlix's voice. He probably wouldn't claim to be a great singer, but on the slower songs his voice has a somewhat mournful edge at times, and his singing doesn't really have enough variety to hold the interest. It's an opportunity missed that he didn't decide to use guest vocalists on a couple of tracks. For Morlix has built his reputation as a producer, working with a long list of artists including Lucinda Williams, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Slaid Cleaves, Robert Earl Keen and Mary Gauthier.
The album is not surprisingly self-produced, and also no surprise that the musicianship and production are superb throughout. While it will certainly serve its purpose of helping bring Foley's songs to a wider audience, and there are a few standout tracks, overall the album doesn't quite live up to expectations.