Cary Morin,
Cradle to the Grave
(Maple Street Music, 2017)

As happens from time to time -- file such occasions under Pleasant Surprises -- a CD arrives from a fully formed, which usually means not-young, musician with whom I have no previous acquaintance. In the case of Cary Morin, that's a flat-picker with a well-honed folk and blues sensibility. I asked an old friend, an acclaimed acoustic guitarist who's been on the folk circuit for a long time and who knows just about everybody by now, if he knew the name. He didn't. Perhaps, and I am only speculating, that is because like many American roots artists Morin performs in good part overseas, where our traditional music is often better received and appreciated than it is here.

Cradle to the Grave comes in at 11 cuts and 41 minutes. Three of the cuts are covers, one from Robert Johnson's friend Willie Brown ("Mississippi Blues") and two ("Back on the Train" and "Nothing Compares 2 You") from Phish and Prince, respectively. Somehow, Morin finds the blues core to these latter, in other words so that they don't stick out as if unwelcome alien invaders from another genre universe. (Being largely oblivious to any but the pop tunes of my youthful years, I have -- shockingly no doubt to some who read these words -- never heard the originals.) On the Brown song, however, Morin reverently yet creatively reworks a Delta classic. It's different enough from Brown's that one need not concern oneself with which more deserves listening to.

Morin's wry, dusty voice feels perfectly suited to his overall approach. That approach encompasses what must be the first song, if probably not the last, about last year's widely publicized protest by the Standing Rock Sioux of North Dakota over water rights and treaty obligations. (It's titled "Dawn's Early Light," an apt touch.) A member of the Crow tribe, a Montana native, and now a resident of northern Colorado, he writes blues and blues-inflected material that explores mortality, memory, relationships and religious reflections in well-shaped, pretension-free lyrics.

Combined with his superior picking skills, the effect lingers in ear and mind. Marin may not have invented this particular style, but he carries it supremely well.

music review by
Jerome Clark

4 March 2017

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