Jackie Morris,
Where the Legends
Grow Like Weeds

(Button Box, 2005)

Based in Los Angeles, Jackie Morris writes in a country-folk-pop vein, singing in a sweet, chirpy soprano. The dozen cuts here are all her own compositions. The album has a clean, pleasant, unbusy acoustic arrangement, mostly devoid of percussion and percussive sounds. Morris has an ear for engaging, easy-to-take melodies.

The problem is that Morris's lyrics and delivery are mostly unsuited to the material. A good country singer would have no trouble with a line (in "Far Too Much") relating that "daddy's little princess" grew up to be a "barroom queen." As Morris sings the words, they sound affected and even a tad bizarre, as if her whole notion of how a development like that could occur comes directly out of a dictionary of country-music cliches, not from experience of a rough, blue-collar world where such things happen all the time.

The backroads ambience of these songs -- and make no mistake, I'm all in favor of backroads ambience -- simply is not credible. Bob Dylan insists you need to immerse yourself in traditional folk music before you ever set out to write a song of your own. Though Morris clearly thinks of her songs and performances as connected to folk music in some old-fashioned sense, one hears form but not substance. However much she may love it, she doesn't get it.

At her best moments, she's aspiring to be Mary McCaslin or Kate Wolf -- two justly admired, tradition-literate California singer-songwriters -- but Morris's is only a twee version, John Denver rather than, say, Fred Neil. And a cringe-inducing song like "Online Dating" is one from which I suspect even Denver, who had no audible objection in principle to cornball material, would have fled in horror.

Morris is not untalented. It's just that on Where the Legends Grow Like Weeds she's in over her head, adrift in a rural landscape she has barely a clue how to navigate.

by Jerome Clark
24 February 2007

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