After years of over-processed, effects-laden shred guitar, the voice of the unadorned electric guitar is a refreshingly direct and emotive one. The originators of blues and rock didn’t have much choice – they had to wring all the feeling they could out of that neck because all they had was a guitar, a wire and an amp (often a converted radio or primitive PA). Guitarists such as Howlin’ Wolf’s hotwire virtuoso, Hubert Sumlin, invented an entire repetoire of bends, double-stops and slides to transcend the wiry tone of their instruments (most of which are still used today, from country to metal).

Many current players still go for that un-effected sound in order to allow nothing to come between them and the listener’s heart and vitals (and ass). Much of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan’s best work was just wood, wire and fingers. Sydney guitarist/drummer Matt ‘The Rumble’ Morrison adopts the same steely, ‘vocal’ tone on his recent LP, Gemini.

Called Gemini because of Morrison’s double-threat skills – he is as much in demand on guitar and drums (check his tasty snake-hipped shuffle on album cut ‘Polarised’) – the LP has a warm and laidback party vibe which frames this music perfectly.

Produced in collaboration with keys-whiz Clayton Doley (The Hands, The Mighty Reapers and recently Harry Manx)Gemini moves from soul to blues to reverb-heavy rock (Morrison’s sly take on the classic ‘Sleepwalk’, called ‘Spacewalk’) and surf (the gorgeous cover of Link Wray’s ‘Mustang’) guitar instrumentals.

The soul cuts feature vocals from the surprising (and wonderfully named) Snooks La Vie as well as Morrison himself. Doley has arranged some tough horns as well and dropped them perfectly in place. Not surprisingly, the rhythm section of Morrison and bassman Rowan Lane is as tight as loose can be – beautiful!

Gemini is a roots-real delight from go to whoa. I cannot wait to check this material live.

Matt’s website is here.

_________________________________________

Prior to posting this review, The OrangePress asked Matt Morrison a handful of questions. Here are his responses:

The OrangePress: Where does Matt Morrison come from, musically and spiritually?

Matt Morrison: I guess musically I started listening to my three older brothers playing around the house a lot. We grew up with the similar musical starting point of the early electric blues men, ie Elmore James, Hound Dog Taylor, Muddy Waters, BB King. But its not exclusively blues either, It was not a big leap for me to get into the Beatles, Elvis, Surf guitar, guitar pop (modern and old) Motown, Chess soul etc. I suppose the common thread is guitar, organ and great rhythm sections, which is enough for me. It all seems like an extension of the same thing, same ingredients slightly different flavors. The tunes / songs of these styles of music, and importantly the delivery, all tug at your emotions, the full gamut, one way or another.

TOP: I hear Booker T-style Steve Cropper in your sound and approach very strongly on ‘Gemini’ – who else shapes your guitar playing?

MM: Booker T is always a touchstone for me, and when it comes time to record a song, I always try and consider how those blokes would have gone about it. Because it was so direct and deceptively simple, it is very effective and ultimately cool. We did this a lot with Gemini. Other guitar guys include BB King, the unknown soul twangers in James Brown’s bands of the 60’s, Denny Freeman from Austin Texas that I’ve toured with a few times, the Texas strat guys like Jimmie Vaughan etc. Local guys like Dave Brewer and Jack Housden really knock my socks off too!  At the other end of the spectrum I enjoy learning from Grant Green, early George Benson, Kenny Burrell .

TOP: Hammond-hero Clayton Doley co-produced ‘Gemini’, played on the album and supplied horn arrangements. What did Clayton bring to the sessions?

MM: Clayton and I grew up in Adelaide and are old friends. When I needed someone to help me with the album, he was the only choice really. Because we really didn’t need to talk about much musically or artistically, let alone disagree, as we just inately understand what each other likes, dislikes, and is capable of. It’s not that common for someone to be such a great all round musician like he is, and have all the technical skills and ear required to complete the recording process from beginning to end like he has. His concentration is unparalleled. After a few hours I’m done, he can go all day! We both seem to be able to use practical skills as well as artistic ones to complete the job with the original vision unhindered by extraneous influences. Though sometimes, other input is exactly what is required, but on this occasion, I had fairly grounded ideas about what I wanted, and it was easy to go about it together.

TOP: The sound and vibe is full of old-school flavours. With The Dap-Kings and neo-soul this style seems more popular that ever. What is it in roots-soul-blues that keeps it fresh and evergreen?

MM: I’m hopeful that this “neo-soul” vibe will blossom and continue to provide guys like me with an outlet, cause its not always easy to find one. One thing that keeps this material going in my view is simply the music. Great songs, or fantastic emotive grooves, moving bridges, nice arrangements always have a way of connecting with people, even if they don’t know it. There is a fashion element to all things like this, and if it can be marketed correctly, ie in a way that makes it palatable for people, and make is available to them, then the music will do the rest. I find it is the business and marketing side of things that is the most challenging for most self-made musicians.

TOP: What are you thoughts on current music?

MM: On some levels the big media hits are nothing more than fashionable dross, that I find more difficult to listen to than a team of workmen fixing the bitumen on the street. At least the council blokes are doing something useful! Just trying to buy a pair of new jeans is an effort of self control when dealing with the music in the shop…
On the other hand, there are so many current cool things on you tube, the net in general by artists that have taken roots music to a different level, and give me great encouragement that people are still creating cool stuff and getting some recognition for it. Though, it is sometimes overwhelming to cut though the massive amounts of product out there now to find it. Musicians never fail to surprise me how pro-active they are at finding and passing on interesting modern acts from around the globe.

TOP: Where does Matt Morrison go next, musically and spiritually?

MM: I plan to keep playing drums AND guitar. In fact I just bought a new ’63 orange sparkle round badge Gretsch kit from New York, that has inspired me a little to practise and create on the drums a bit more. And a while ago just finished building the f-hole tele (on the cd cover) to play with too.
In the short term, I have been playing guitar more with Clayton lately, and we will be going up to the big festival in Caloundra in Queensland at the end of Sept. Mid Sept I have the vocalist on my cd – Snooks La Vie coming over from Adelaide to do a run of gigs with the Rumble’ators. Full seven piece band with the horns and Hammond etc.
The positive feedback I’ve been getting about Gemini from everyone has been very heartening. It’s given me confidence to pursue my ideas, and I intend to keep implementing them as best I can, in what ever gig I do. These days, as I get a little older, I prefer to spend more time at home learning the gig that I’m booked for, as opposed to winging it, so that I can give a show my best shot. I remind myself constantly that I’m lucky to have the opportunity to perform at all, let alone next to some of the talented people I work with, and that at the end of the day, its all about doing your best.

 

Published July 2012 on theorangepress.net

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