The first song I heard Cahalen Morrison sing was “Our Lady Of The Tall Trees,” the title track of a record he put out with Eli West in 2012. I was struck immediately by Cahalen’s voice, a rich tenor that quavered and rippled like pine boughs being tossed by the wind.
As part of the duo with West, Cahalen spins old time nouveau, stripped down acousticana built on guitar, mandolin, and banjo. On his latest release, however, Cahalen returns to the musical roots of his earliest days.
The Flower of Muscle Shoals, recorded with his band, Country Hammer, is more akin to the sounds of Cahalen’s childhood in the northern reaches of New Mexico, where country and western music is king. Cahalen first took the stage with a country band when he was just barely a teenager. Though he ventured away from those country roots during the ensuing years – Cahalen has dabbled in rock and roll, old time, and bluegrass in the meantime – he has returned to the sounds of his familial home, the sounds that formed the musical underpinnings of his adventures in music.
It’s definitely a homecoming worth hearing.
Trail Mix chatted recently with Cahalen about the new record, country artists doing country right, and who might come out on top if Willie Nelson and Luke Bryan put up their dukes.
His answer to that last one might surprise you.
BRO – How is putting out this country record like coming full circle for you?
CM – It feels great. The first band I was in was a country band, so it feels really comfortable to be doing it again. It’s definitely not the end of the circle, or a closed circle, but it does feel like home. I am definitely still excited about bluegrass, old time, conjunto, and loads of other things.
BRO – What country artists are doing it right these days?
CM – Well, there are different takes on that, because there is still some mainstream stuff that gets it right every now and again. Brad Paisley can do it when he wants to, and even Joey & Rory have a couple great songs. But the real folks who are doing it are people like J.P. Harris, Zoe Muth, The Sweetback Sisters, Dale Watson, Sturgill Simpson, and Robbie Fulks.
BRO – We are featuring “Our Love Is Like A Hurricane” on this month’s Trail Mix. What is the story behind the song?
CM – It’s my take on the classic country song. The man is coming in the door with his tail between his legs and the woman is wielding all the power. It’s about those relationships that are powerful, beautiful, and destructive. I think everyone can relate to that.
BRO – Can you make a classic country record without a pedal steel guitar?
CM – Sure! It’s not about the instruments, it’s about how you deliver the song. How you sing and play it, how you feel it, and not what you’re playing it on. There’s plenty of great songs that just feature fiddle, or even mandolin, that do it just right.
BRO – Willie Nelson and Luke Bryan get into a bar fight. Who you putting your money on?
CM – Willie Nelson wouldn’t even give Luke Bryan a chance. He’d kill him with kindness. That’s what it’s about!
Cahalen calls Seattle home, so you have to catch him when you can on his trips east. Our friends in Washington State can catch Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer in Bellingham on September 12. Cahalen heads east later this month with Eli West for shows in New York City (9.20), Cambridge, Massachusetts (9.21), and Wilmington, Deleware (9.23).
For more information on Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer and how you can get the new record, surf over to www.cahalen.com.