While most career-minded Tucson musicians yearn to get out of the Old Pueblo -- fans aren't so much fickle as they are indifferent to home-brewed sounds, and the print media's support, at least in terms of serious, critical coverage, has dwindled to a shockingly low ebb over the last few years -- roots/blues rover Teddy Morgan has the distinction of taking the opposite tack. Admittedly, marrying a hometown gal last year might've influenced the dude's thinking (Tucson ladies can be pretty strong-willed when it comes to sticking close to casa and la familia). Still, this guy, who has a pair of CDs on the Antones label and one each on Hightone and Atomic Theory to his credit, left Austin to move to Tucson, for chrissakes, a relocation that ranks somewhere between Scottsdale-to-Sunnyslope and L.A.-to-Los Alamos in terms of career strategy.
You want strategy? Howzabout not one but two CDs resulting from the Morgan-Tucson connection in the space of just a few months? Crashing Down was recorded at the venerable Wavelab Studios, and in addition to singer/guitarist Morgan, bassist John Penner and drummer Chris Hunter, it features guest appearances from Calexico/Giant Sand's Joey Burns, Giant Sand's Nick Luca and pedal steel king Neil Harry. And it smokes from start to finish. The record kicks off with a twangy, Plimsouls-meets-Steve Earle rave-up manifesto called "Never Again," Morgan leaning into the mike so hard he practically blares himself hoarse. A quick change of pace arrives next by way of "Western Star," a haunting, ethereal sweep of desert noir whose dusky meditations include Burns' accordion and vibraphone. "Moon So High" returns to Earle territory (vocally, Morgan does resemble a young S.E.), this time on more reflective midtempo terms -- a "chick song," as Earle has taken to describing some of his own recent concessions to tenderness. And "The Price I Pay" is pure rollin'-on-the-river swamp rock -- someone send Tony Joe White a copy of this record -- right down to the gator twang 'n' tremolo. Included, too, is a cover of Dylan's "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" given an unexpectedly low-key but wholly winning noontime-in-the-sun treatment. Eleven tunes in all, every one different and not a second's waste among 'em.
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Live @ 7 Black Cats is more rough-and-ready, a live-to-two-track affair recorded in front of an appreciative audience at the Tucson punk venue. "Western Star" surfaces again, this time featuring Harry's steel guitar subbing for the accordion. Covers of Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding" and Mickey Newberry's "Why You Been Gone So Long" are highlights, both rendered with a craftsman's appreciation of songwriting acumen and a honky-tonker's grasp of what makes the beer taps flow. Elsewhere one hears ecstatic slabs of Tex-Mex-inspired rockabilly ("Bullet From a Gun"), '50s-styled country balladry ("Along the Way") and some shuddery swamp-blooze so dark you'd swear they'd turned the lights out on the bayou for good ("Should Be Gone"). The Morgan trio -- abetted this evening by Harry and Tucson country star Troy Olson -- inhabits each subgenre it tackles with a confidence that can't be faked, but earned the old-fashioned way. Within the broader over-genre known as Roots, let it be known that Arizona has a new, honorary native son in Teddy Morgan. Do us proud, man, do us proud. (For details about obtaining the discs, contact Mongrel Music via e-mail: email@example.com.)