In “Ellen’s Tune,” a soft and whimsical tribute to his wife, folkie Bill Morrissey captures his appeal with typically shambling aplomb: “Nothing up my sleeve, no bag of tricks / Glad she goes for lyrics, not guitar licks.” For some reason, I kind of feel guilty about liking Morrissey; probably because it’s easy to scoff at people who are treading the boards in a genre that’s been passed over by time, and also because it’s hard, really, to argue that he’s important, or even to make a case that the skeptical will find the pleasure he gives worth the time it takes to know him. So at the risk of damning with faint praise, I’ll just say this: for a troubadour folkie, he’s really good. He has a fondness for novelty numbers that don’t travel that well, and once you get used to his gravelly, weathered voice you’re kind of surprised to see what a young guy he is. But almost all of the songs he’s recorded have tasteful and distinguishable melodies, deftly limned characterizations, direct (and sometimes surprisingly deep) metaphors, and a laudable reluctance to settle for sentimentality. His subjects are drunks who aren’t entirely beyond help, relationships with space enough between the parties involved for them to notice, and people who jump out of one frying pan and into another. If you like that sort of stuff his newest record, Night Train, is worth hearing, and the show–it’s an easy $8 ticket–is worth seeing. Budding folkies should note that he’s also holding a $15 songwriting workshop Monday night from 7 to 9 Sunday, 4 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 909 W. Armitage; 525-7793.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Susan Wilson.