The Lynn Morris Band,
Shape of a Tear
(Rounder, 2003)

With a three-time IMBA female Vocalist of the Year, the IMBA Fiddle Player of the Year (who, interestingly, is sought after even more for his prowess on banjo) and a mandolin player whose contributions to Michael Cleveland's album, Flamekeeper, helped propel it to IMBA Instrumental Recording of the Year honors in 2002, the Lynn Morris Band might easily be considered the dream team of bluegrass.

In an interview with Jon Weisberger, Morris quotes Loretta Lynn's assertion that "to succeed in this business, you've got to either be first, great or different." While Lynn Morris undeniably has a great band behind her, the group's latest effort, Shape of a Tear, is neither the first of its kind nor different, but still resounds with unusual clarity and precision.

Though one may wonder whether Morris and her band ought to try getting their hands dirty a bit more, as with David Olney's demon-haunted "Deeper Well" or Dock Boggs's famously furious "Sugar Baby," no one can say that the Lynn Morris band doesn't know how to cover familiar musical terrain with aplomb and passion, rivaling even the likes of Bill Monroe on the delightfully frenetic instrumental, "Road Rage," three jam-packed minutes of banjo and fiddle virtuosity. Similarly, the adept cover of Hank Williams's great "Move It on Over" tends to gloss over the original's elusive pathos, but, like the rest of the album, hardly suffers from a lack of conviction.

Unlike other vocalists of a similar musical stripe, such as Neko Case or Emmylou Harris, Morris's voice is softer than a down quilt and often more patiently effective than the aforementioned talents, favoring the gradual simmer over the quick sting. Her vocal performances throughout are of a uniform croon that drifts like a feather over an impassioned soundscape of the familiar accoutrements -- banjos, bass, mandolins, fiddles and the occasional burst of a chorus that even a school of birds warbling on a wire might have difficulty matching.

Morris notes that one ingredient Loretta Lynn leaves conspicuously out of her recipe for success is "a great band." Another thing Loretta might have considered is the possibility of a band that isn't necessarily breaking ground, but is just so damn good at doing what many predecessors have done that it at least merits a listen.

- Rambles
written by Gianmarc Manzione
published 2 August 2003