“Going Back to the Sky” – RB Morris

4 stars (out of 5)

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“Going Back to the Sky” runs through a variety of musical styles covering the Americana genre fairly comprehensively but there are a couple of things that remain constant; the first is the theme of the album – it’s the wide open spaces of the centre of America and the people that inhabit this world. The other constant is RB Morris’s smooth, honeyed vocal delivery which feels almost effortless as he delivers his finely-crafted tales of life on the road on what he calls his ’dustbowl record’, speaking metaphorically.

If there’s a single song on the album that exemplifies RB Morris’s abilities to create a powerful song from a trivial-sounding event, it’s “Missouri River Hat Blowing Incident”; on a stop to commemorate his first crossing of the Missouri river, his hat is blown away by a gust of wind. After (eventually) chasing down the hat, the chance comes to look around with wonder at the epic scale of the prairie landscape. It’s a tip of the hat (pun intended) to Tony Joe White, not for the first time on the album, punctuated with Greg Horne’s moody pedal steel fills; it’s the perfect road song. “Montana Moon”, the longest song on the album, also nods in the direction of Tony Joe White, with sparse instrumentation depicting a freezing night on the road, literally and metaphorically running on fumes while using talk and memories of better times to survive the night.

Although at first sight the album looks quite hefty at fourteen tracks, three of those (“Prelude I”, “Somewhere’s West” and “Prelude II”) are tone poems clocking in at under a minute, either setting the scene or, in the case of “Somewhere’s West”, acting as a coda to “Montana Moon”. Interestingly, these are the work of the other musicians on the album, not RB Morris; the songs are the work of a gifted songwriter, but the instrumental settings certainly help them along.

Picking out individual songs isn’t easy, but here we go. “Under the Cigar Tree” is a bit of fun (that happens on the road as well) with mariachi rhythms and instrumentation, while the title song has a country-rock styling and perfect harmonies as it runs through a few tempo changes. It’s also ambivalent; it can mean going back to old haunts or leaving this life altogether.

“Going Back to the Sky” is an album that doesn’t give up all its secrets at once; it’s well worth listening a few times to capture some of the finer nuances of its lyrics and arrangements.

The album is out now on Singular Recordings (NTRB202001).

Here’s the video for “Red Sky”:

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