T. Hardy Morris – Audition Tapes

Serenity is damn near impossible to attain in our collective digital frenzy. It requires a measured repose that is hard to muster when ceaseless distraction fuels our fragmented world. Fortunately, for anyone who still cherishes the sublime soul of Southern gothic and its redemptive allure, T. Hardy Morris is a raconteur who imbues every simple chord change with wistful resignation. The type of wisdom wrought from flirting with darkness without succumbing to it. The type of catharsis cobbled from bleary erosion and punch-drunk karma.

This level of emotional clarity is even more extraordinary considering this is Morris’s fourth album in a year’s time – and counting. Recorded in the same Nashville studio that produced Diamond Rugs’ burnished gem last year, Morris assembled new and more familiar faces (Black Lips guitarist Ian Saint Pe, Whigs drummer Julian Dorio, Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez) to give his haunting ballads sonic weight.

Opening track “Lucky” laments the ever-accelerating passage of time. A gradual attrition compounded when you think whiskey might be able to slow it down.

He was not so lucky
Born into a poverty
Of his own creation
He listens when he’s drinkin’ too
She changed the lock on her heart
And with one look he cut a key
You can’t keep him out
He gets in anyhow don’t he.

Morris’ stark yet warm drawl, amidst a distant pedal steel and duple beat kick drum, douse the opening verse in a stew of silent tragedy. Most singer/songwriters would quickly drown out a listener in mushy maudlin, but he always knows when to pull back and leave a glimmer of hope.

The melding of a cavernous 4/4 melody and Morris’s yearning voice set the stage for “OK Corral.” It ambles along with the tumbleweeds, reminiscing about a simpler time when loyalty trumped whatever insurmountable adversity came your way. Think Gram Parsons and Townes Van Zandt living vicariously through the last scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with a little peyote sprinkled on top.

Morris relives the innocent abandon of preteen past on the luminous title track. A syncopated rhythm skitters alongside a breezy two-chord intonation that buttresses back-of-the-bus insecurity and the looming loss of a cherished friend.

The three intermediate tracks constitute a precarious bridge from blissful youth to a young manhood fraught with the pitfalls of hard drugs, brooding despair and a very palpable sense of fatality.

The final troika is akin to actually waking up before sunrise after years of endless benders and hallucinogenic fog. “Beauty Rest” is intimately more soothing with a distinct female murmur mixed into the somnolent chorus. Somber slide guitar caresses through the opening bars of “Own Worst Enemy,” a resolute call to action for overcoming corrosive self-doubt when rock bottom is seemingly the only horizon ahead.

If Jim James is the new Southern Prince, Morris conjures up an insouciant Leonard Cohen traipsing across the desert. Two kindred vagabonds endlessly searching for whatever small grains of truth don’t slip through their weathered hands.

T. Hardy Morris
Audition Tapes