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KEITH MORRIS & THE CROOKED NUMBERS-The Dirty Gospel
If the heavens opened and rained music down upon us, I am certain it would sound exactly like Keith Morris & The Crooked Numbers’ new album, The Dirty Gospel. The Charlottesville, Virginia band released 10 tracks of gritty, southern soul, dusted with gospel, southern rock, and blues.
The album incorporates some way cool harmonica, dynamite organ, and some beautifully played slide guitar. And let’s not overlook the divine choir that swoops down to touch your soul.
The songs are wonderfully melodic and moving, poignantly personal, yet they resonate across the universe. There is a prophetic sentiment throughout, and at times, I felt like shouting Hallelujah, grabbing a beer, and asking for forgiveness, as Keith Morris exposes parts of humanity we often wish we could forget about. Favorite tracks: ‘Psychopaths & Synchophants‘; ‘Pale Moon‘; ‘Are You Free Now?’. Incredible album! Without a doubt, one of the best albums I have heard in a long time. Check it out here, and then buy 2 or 3 copies. Play it often. Play it Loud. Let the heavens hear it.
Sunday, April 3, 2016, by Mary Alice Blackwell, The Daily Progress
Writing and music have been a part of Keith Morris’ life for years.
As a journalist — both for The Daily Progress and C’Ville — he has had a lot to report about the Charlottesville music scene.
But, several years ago, he decided to put down the pen — and pick up a pick.
“I worked a variety of jobs over the years,” he said. “I am just focusing on the music now.”
Keith Morris and the Crooked Numbers, his band, will be celebrating the release of their third CD, “The Dirty Gospel,” on Friday at the Ante Room.
So how do you interview the master interviewer?
“If I were writing this story, I think I would go through the lyrics,” he said. “That was a big part of it. All of my songs on this album are lyric-centric … that, and a great band behind it.”
Apparently, he couldn’t put the pen down for long. It was an integral part of the new CD.
“It is the darkest record I have made so far,” he said.
Although Morris is reluctant to bring up the past, his music is overshadowed by the past that has created his present story.
“A couple of years ago, my brother committed suicide,” Morris said. “This record is fallout from all of that.”
Robert Morris was an award-winning architect who also was the subject of many articles for his company’s designs. He was featured in Southern Living, Better Homes and Gardens and The Washington Post, to name a few.
But, according to his brother, “Rob had a lot of problems. He was bipolar.
“When something like that happens, you just get clobbered. The only thing I could think of was that this is going to be a horrible couple of years.”
Morris turned to what he did best.
“Write, write, write,” Morris said. “So that is what I did. Every night, from 10 o’clock on, I would spend it writing and just being in touch with the music.”
A lot of the songs on his most personal album came out of that.
“There was a lot of anger,” he said. “It was like the stages of grief … a lot of anger, a lot of hurt, a lot of frustration.”
He told his story through the music.
“We all grew up in Georgia,” Morris said. “My brother was several years older than me. He was growing up in the ’70s in the Deep South. He knew from the time that he was 5 years old that he was gay. Rob suffered a lot from that.”
The family was brought up in the Baptist church, he said, where the culture at the time was to “love the sinner, hate the sin.”
It was a time when televangelists heaped on the guilt.
“He suffered for that,” Morris said. “I think a lot of the emotional problems he had were the result of that. His anger and loathing of the mindless religious culture.
“I’m not saying that religion is bad, but I am talking about people who use religion to target other people. After he killed himself, it hit me hard. That was a lot of my anger. I had to sort that out. The emotions were so strong. Everything was so raw.”
All of it was right there in front of him. He just had to write it down.
“Once you get in the flow of writing and the songs are coming through, something interesting happens,” he said. “You have songs that just fall in your lap.”
“Dopesick Blues” came to him while he was driving.
“I didn’t write it,” he said. “All of a sudden, I just heard the song in my head. I pulled the car over and recorded it on my iPhone.”
It was the chorus — the back-and-forth with his chorus on the fourth cut of his latest album.
“Within 45 minutes, the whole song came to me,” he said.
“Psychopaths and Sycophants” had a similar beginning.
“It came to me in a dream, with the words attached,” he said. “The first verse was there when I woke up in the morning.
“So this CD came to me in two different ways. One was my ongoing need to write, and the other were the songs that just fell into my lap.”
“Pale Moon” and “Chipper Jones” were two more examples of the latter.
“Pale Moon” came to him the night he heard of his brother’s death.
“It was like I could feel his presence in the room with me, and it said, ‘Pick up the guitar,’ ” he wrote. “I did … It didn’t feel like I wrote it; it felt like it was given to me.”
His new CD is much different from his first two. Darker, he says, but very personal.
“Songs from Candyapolis,” his first album, was upbeat and light. “Love Wounds and Mars” had a darker edge, “but nothing like this,” he said.
All three have garnered praise in the press — something that he dished out when he used his writing to review other local bands. It was through that process that he met and befriended many of his own Crooked Numbers band mates.
“Bud Bryant was the Hogwaller Ramblers’ bassist,” Morris said.
He also rounded up Stuart Gunter, Tom Proutt, Mike Kilpatrick, Mike Cvetanovich and the choir — Keith’s wife, Jen Morris, and twins Davina and Davita Jackson, who also sang for the likes of Corey Harris.
“Stuart has been a friend of mine for a long time, Morris said. “After our first rehearsal, we started the band.”
Morris has many more words of praise for his musician friends, but perhaps it’s best to let you hear them for yourselves when they celebrate the release of “The Dirty Gospel” with some more of their musical friends at the Ante Room.
Sarah White and the Pearls will be on hand with Mister Baby, the duo.
“I knew a lot of these musicians when I was writing about music,” he said. “Sarah White is a wonderful songwriter … and I just love the way Megan Huddleston writes songs.”
Go hear what they all have to say.
Mary Alice Blackwell is a correspondent for The Daily Progress.
Keith Morris is back, and his sound’s a good deal bigger this time, right from the first cut’s kick-in (“Psychopaths & Sycophants”), much mindful of the Move’s “Feel Too Good”, Manfred Mann’s take on Dylan’s “Get Your Rocks Off”, and Happy Monday’s rave-up on John Kongos’ “Tokoloshe Man” (if’n yew, pilgrim, ain’t heard them thar brain-burning toonz, then yer waaaay behind!), pregnant with a groove so insistent it puts a new unholy lurch in the brontosaurus stomp.
That doesn’t mean he’s lost an ounce of that Lawsiana back porch soul, though, as “Pale Moon Rising” well evidences. The titles alone tell ya whatcher in fer: “Dopesick Blues”, “Prejudiced & Blind”, “Devil’s Stew”, etc., a potpourri of Woodstock Nation cynicism, cheek, ‘n down and dirty honesty. Then there’s the righteously wailing choir quartet and tear-the-frets off musicians, who do their damned level best to put the stink on the stank on the stunk, wallowing in gutbucket rock ‘n roll that’ll have ya starry-eyed and yellin’. Yep, ‘rock’ is most assuredly a lapidarian term and thus fits this rough ‘n cool bitchin’ lil’ ol’ gem to a ‘T’. Have a fifth of something potent to hand when you tear the shrink-wrap off and toss the disc in the player. –Mark S. Tucker, FAME
“One of my top album picks of the year…. Morris is a monster of a songwriter…. Who else could put together an album so personal and yet so universal?”
“The band members and the choir–four voices dipped in sugar and honey in just the right proportions–are talented, but as a band their talents become immense.”
Check out the whole review at No Depression.
Dirty Gospel Review: “It’s difficult focusing on specific tracks because the entire album is a solid soul flogging from beginning to end.”
“Keith Morris & Company are back with another installation of their rock and gospel-oriented Americana. There’s hell-and-hallelujahs and swamp rock grit all over this puppy. While the March-break College kids are puking in the back alleys of the French Quarter in Nawlins during Mardi Gras, Keith & Co. are holding court in the backrooms of some smoke and whiskey drenched speakeasy between Bourbon and Royal Streets laying down the 10 Commandments of Hard Luck Town. It’s difficult focusing on specific tracks because the entire album is a solid soul flogging from beginning to end. If you like your Tom Waits more groovy, if you like your Dylan less obtuse and if you like your Tom Petty without Jeff-fucking-Lynne, this is the record for you. Stand out tracks are the almost Henley-like cynical bite of “Psychopaths & Sycophants”, the “Rockin’ In The Free World” melodic drive of “Prejudiced and Blind” and the ascendant artistry of ballads like “Devil’s Stew” and “Chipper Jones”. Excuse me, I need to go to confessional and erase my sins with Holy Water & Jack Daniels…and I’m an atheist non-drinker!”
“Keith and I have been acquaintances for a few years now. I always thought I knew where he was going but he has caught me completely off-guard with The Dirty Gospel. Full band, full sound, full-on power— not just a step but a few steps forward for him. And his band. This is the first album which allows The Crooked Numbers to really shine…”
Full preview can be read here.
Keith Morris & The Crooked Numbers, Love Wounds & Mars
My first and strongest impression of this album is that it rocks—for better and worse. Sometimes it leans hard into Southern stadium rock, Dylan (“Nowhere Road”), Pink Floyd (“Mexico”), and Dire Straits (“Don’t Look Down”). The vocal phrasing and the feedbacky high lead guitar wails permeate some of the songs with hard-to-ignore nostalgia.
Still, what’s most salient and consistent about the sound of the album is what a well-seasoned band sound it has. The instruments and vocals lean against one another like old friends on a couch—at times you lose track of whether you’re listening to organ, fiddle, or pedal steel, for instance, yet the production never feels overdone. The party is just crowded enough.
A few of the high points for me: “Nowhere Road” with its appropriately driving feel—the background vocals and instruments move with the momentum of a train—and the haunting image of “a drowning man / just clutching onto a razor blade.” “Blind Man” has for its tragic central trope a guy who can’t see but can’t stop watching. The wry political wink at the end (“drill baby drill”) makes the song add up to a rollicking lament for runaway capitalism.
I have to agree with the reviewer who called “Like a Haze” the strongest cut on the album, yet it’s hard to pin down exactly why. The melody is as loose as the referentiality of the lyrics, draped over the very definite atmospherics of the accompaniment. The song is almost without hooks, in the conventional sense; instead, it is a hook, holistically. It wears its ambiguity on its sleeve, and it earns it. “Take a few of those back”—a few whats? But this approach doesn’t come off coy so much as coherent with the swampedness of the relationship depicted here: the singer is similarly out of his depth with his beloved and with language, and the parallel works.
I’m also fond of “Diamond Mask” – the non-sequitur progressions and the near-synesthesia of the imagery (“I need to hear a railroad song / straight for two miles long”) fall perfectly in line with the song’s footloose content.
Love Wounds & Mars brings us striking new American designs. The characters feel unique and authentic. The characters feel unique and authentic. They’re fresh inhabitants of a world we know—not old, but definitely not foreign to our ears. Still better, Morris’s lyrics here (as on Songs from Candyapolis) love the incidental poetry of language uttered before it quite coalesces into literal meaning: “high-water booty from Knoxville,” “watch the hickory as it seeps,” “the third ring of coincidence,” “I come from many sins in the west.” The result is a fetching, benign vertigo—we find ourselves on just the other side of clear. The right side.
Brady Earnhart.com .
Review of album can be read here at Alternative Airways.
Keith Morris joins Peter Jones on WTJU Folk and Beyond to discuss songwriting, his new album “love wounds & mars,” and to play some tracks off the album.
- “Incredible album! Without a doubt, one of the best albums I have heard in a long time.”
- “After tragedy, Crooked Numbers’ Keith Morris finds solace in his writing…”
- The Dirty Gospel review, Mark S Tucker, FAME
- No Depression reviews The Dirty Gospel
- Dirty Gospel Review: “It’s difficult focusing on specific tracks because the entire album is a solid soul flogging from beginning to end.”