At first listen, Sam Morrow’s latest album There Is No Map – streaming at Spotify – might fool you into thinking that it’s dadrock. But it’s not. Although Morrow works the same familiar soul, blues and country-inspired terrain that white hippies have made a cliche out of since the 70s, Morrow isn’t one of them. In fact, when he hits the second verse of the slow, waltzing soul ballad Green – more or less the centerpiece of the album – he makes fun of those cliches. ““If I sing in key, would you believe…the same old bullshit don’t make the grass green,” he drawls, so laid-back that he could be drunk. Which he actually isn’t, since Morrow doesn’t drink. He’s bringing that refreshingly sardonic humor and his tastefully crafted Americana tunes to the small room at the Rockwood on Sept 8 at 8 PM.
The album has a lot of flavors and most of them work. The opening number, Barely Holding On, is a loping Johnny Cash-style shuffle spiced with chicken-scratch C&W guitar and honkytonk piano. “Gimme freedom of speech, then call me an asshole when I speak my brain,” Morrow intones.
“You’re fooling yourself if you think people change,” Morrow suggests in the metaphorically bristling The Deaf Conductor – with its organ, piano and snarling multitracked guitars, it wouldn’t be out of place on the Wallflowers’ first album. Likewise, a little later, Morrow sends a subtle swipe upside the head of entitled white privilege in the Stonesy Train Robber.
“We’re all just fucking liars…we’re all just hookers in high heels,” he laments in the slow, spare, carefully crafted Wasted Time. By contrast, the blippy Rhode-driven swamp-soul strut Am I Wrong has a cool, echoey psychedelic interlude midway through. Devil’s in the Details works stark, spare, brooding Waits territory, while the album’s closing, title cut goes in a country-blues direction, fueled by some tasty dobro picking.
Not everything here is up to that level. There’s Girls, a mashup of secondhand Springsteen and secondhand Stones, and Hurts Like Hell, whose web of mandolin and clever wordplay sinks in a morass of overemoting. But Morrow’s on to something, and he’s funny, and can craft a nifty turn of phrase and a catchy hook with enough consistency to keep you from tuning out. Now if only the legions of Fleetwood Mac and Band imitators would only follow suit.