Beim diesem Namen denkt man zunächst an GURF MORLIX als den berühmten Studio/Sessionmusiker und Produzenten aus Austin, Texas, der 11 Jahre lang eng mit Lucinda Williams zusammengearbeitet hat; und der im Kleingedruckten der Booklets von Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Miller, Slaid Cleaves, Robert Earl Keen, Bob Neuwirth, Butch Hancock, Tom Russell, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Steve Earle, Mary Gauthier, Jimmy LaFave und Dave Alvin verewigt ist. Seine Laufbahn als Künstler unter eigener Regie findet dagegen immer noch eher im Verborgenen statt, obwohl er seit der Jahrtausendwende drei gestandene Alben auf lokalen Labels veröffentlicht hat. Diamonds To Dust ist sein viertes und das erste, dass mit Hilfe von Blue Rose einem breiteren, internationaleren Publikum zugänglich gemacht wird.
Angesichts der Szene und des Genres, in dem sich Gurf Morlix bewegt, verwundert es natürlich nicht, dass wir bei ihm keine stilistischen Überraschungen erleben: Texas Folk, Alt.Country, Americana, No Depression, Country Rock, Singer/Songwriter, Roots'n Blues... All das vermischt der auch als Songschreiber mit allen Talenten gesegnete Allrounder zu einem kolossalen großen Ganzen, protzt mit unter die Haut gehenden semiakustischen Balladen voller Atmosphäre genauso wie mit herrlich angerockten Midtemponummern, bei denen die elektrischen Gitarren singen, dass es eine einzige Freude ist. Anders als früher klingt Diamonds To Dust allerdings deutlich düsterer, molllastiger und mit schwarzem Humor gespickt, auch würde man diese CD aufgrund des Gesamteindrucks eher unter Rock als Country einordnen. Was ursächlich an den Themen der Songs und den Texten liegt: Tod und Verlust, zum Teil jüngst im Freundeskreis erfahren, bestimmen hier klar den Charakter und schlagen sich in Titeln wie 'Killin' Time In Texas', 'Madalyn's Bones', 'Windows Open, Windows Close' oder 'Worth Dyin' For' nieder. Eine sehr beeindruckende Version von Bob Dylan's Klassiker 'With God On Our Side' im Zentrum des Albums könnte da gar nicht besser hineinpassen!
Auffällig ist, dass Morlix - eigentlich eher begnadeter Musiker als Sänger - endlich Frieden mit seiner markanten, tiefen Raspelstimme geschlossen hat und sie mit bislang ungehörtem Selbstbewusstsein einsetzt. Das hört sich dann (teilweise zum Verwechseln ähnlich) wie bei einem gewissen Jon Dee Graham oder Buddy Miller an, zwei ähnlich ausgerichteten Mehrfachtalenten, die allen Blue Rose-Fans und darüberhinaus ja nicht so ganz unbekannt sein dürften... Wie zuvor hat Gurf Morlix auch sein neues Album praktisch im Alleingang in seinem Home Studio eingespielt und aufgenommen. Dabei zeichnet er selbstverständlich für alle Saitenklänge verantwortlich: akustische, elektrische, Slide & Steel Gitarren, Bass, dazu ganz selten etwas Orgel oder Keyboard. Zwei Sachen können andere besser: Schlagzeug spielen und professionell die Blues Harp blasen. Am Drum Set sitzt deswegen wieder sein langjähriger Kumpel Rick Richards, der auch schon auf den meisten der eingangs erwähnten Projekten dabei war. An der Harmonica hören wir mehrmals den renommierten Ray Bonneville, den es vor einigen Jahren von Kanada nach Texas verschlagen hat. Dazu begeistert die bekannte Singer/Songwriter-Kollegin Patty Griffin auf einigen ausgewählten Tracks mit wunderschönen Harmony & Backing Vocals.
Time was when the name GURF MORLIX just meant cool. Quality, too, but first and foremost, cool. "Who's that?" someone might ask at a show, pointing in awe at the poker-faced guitarist and harmony singer accompanying some songwriter with a taste in sidemen as impeccable as their own songs. "That's Gurf Morlix," another would answer, perhaps with an air of incredulity that anyone would have to ask in the first place. "Man, he's cool," the inquirer would enthuse. "Cool name, too."
Later on, Morlix's name also become synonymous with grit and authenticity - two words that neatly sum up the raw, ragged beauty of every album he's produced over the course of the last decade. Some producers fuss over polish and perfection, but survey the likes of such respected artists as Ray Wylie Hubbard, Slaid Cleaves, Mary Gauthier, Robert Earl Keen, Tom Russell and Troy Campbell, and they'll all tell you that you don't hire Morlix to get pretty; you hire him to get real. And maybe a little dirty, too; not for nothing did Hubbard title his second Morlix-helmed album Growl, after the producer's prime directive to "put some growl" on every track for maximum integrity and soul.
All of the above - cool, grit, growl, the works - still very much apply when it comes to Morlix. But with the release of Diamonds to Dust, his fourth and best solo album, Morlix should henceforth be regarded as nothing less than one of the most compelling and formidable songwriters in his adopted home state of Texas, if not in all Americana music.
He's actually been a contender since his 2000 debut, Toad of Titicaca. Although Morlix insists that he put it out mainly as a concession to the musician peers who kept bugging him about needing to make a record of his own, such modesty could hardly obscure the album's simmering wit and almost frightening promise. Hell, if this journeyman sideman/ producer could toss off an original song as kick-ass as "Dan Blocker" by casually goofing around with the cast list of Bonanza, who knew how good he'd be if he ever really showed his guns? And both 2002's Fishin' in the Muddy (boasting the bittersweet tour-de-force "Torn in Two") and 2004's Cut 'N Shoot (a straight-up shot of classic, Hank-inspired honky-tonk) proved the debut was no fluke.
Still, it always seemed like Morlix was holding something back. He released the albums with little fanfare, and apart from the almost dutiful CD-release shows, about the only time you'd ever hear him perform one of his songs publicly would be at the request of another artist he was playing with in his more familiar role as sideman (Hubbard, for one, became such a fan of "Torn in Two," he ended up recording it himself). It was as if Morlix's self-confidence in his own ability had yet to catch up with his potential. Call it a hazard of always working with the best of the best, dating back to his salad days playing with such song poets as the late Blaze Foley and Lucinda Williams (for whom Morlix produced both 1988's bullet-proof Lucinda Williams and 1992's Sweet Old World, as well as the original, tumultuous sessions for what eventually became her breakthrough, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road . but that's another story).
"I started writing songs in the early '70s, but man, did they suck," he offers dryly. "Well, they didn't suck, but I'd write a song and think, 'OK, that's nice; that rhymes and that doesn't sound stupid.' But then I'd compare it to a Lucinda song and think, 'I can never play this for anybody.'"
So, despite the strength of the songs on his first three albums - which had a lot more going for them than rhyming and not sounding stupid ("Dan Blocker" included) - it wasn't until he penned Diamonds to Dust's "Blanket," inspired by the passing of his friends Warren Zevon and Chris Slemmer (a roadie from his Lucinda days) that Morlix truly felt he was on to something.
"That was the breakthrough," he says of "Blanket," which is one of several songs on the new album graced by harmony vocals by the inimitable Patty Griffin. "That was the one that made me realize I had started to get somewhere with the songwriting thing."
And how. While "Blanket," for obvious sentimental reasons, remains Morlix's personal favorite song on the record, every other track here - from the opening death-row lament "Killin' Time in Texas" (a co-write with Troy Campbell) through to the devastating "Need You Now," is cut from the same highest-quality cloth. So much so, in fact, that Morlix's songs all hold their own next to the lone cover at the heart of the album, Bob Dylan's timeless "With God On Our Side."
As it turns out, what for years had been Morlix's biggest hang-up as a writer became his greatest asset.
"What I realized was, these people that I've been working with - they're the benchmark," he says, acknowledging the who's who list of songwriters he'd formerly considered as out of his league. "So I figured, I'd better raise the bar. After talking a lot about songwriting through the years with Lucinda and Ray Wylie and Slaid and Mary Gauthier, I finally put it all together. And I think on Diamonds to Dust, I finally had something to say, and I finally found my songwriting and my singing voice."
Fact is, it was there all along - it just took Morlix a lot longer to recognize it than everyone else around him. Just like he didn't quite realize how tightly the new songs all fit together as a cohesive statement until a friend pointed it out to him.
"I actually had all the songs finished, but I didn't have a title or a concept for it until I had (songwriter) Sam Baker come over and listen to it," says Morlix. "He sat there with his eyes closed and listened the whole way through. When the last song was done, he turned to me and said, 'OK, here's the deal: Here's the sequence, here's the title, and here's what your album is about.' And he was completely right."
Indeed, with its recurring themes of death, decay and impermanence, Diamonds to Dust is far and away the darkest album Morlix has ever made, or even worked on. But there's real beauty here, too, both in the songcraft and the performances (as delivered by Morlix, Griffin, drummer Rick Richards and harmonica player Ray Bonneville). And, best of all, Diamonds to Dust comes with the promise of more to come. Morlix, clearly on a roll, notes that he's already written a dozen new songs that he likes just as much as anything on the new record. And while he'll undoubtedly continue to produce records for "the competition," and even pull the occasional sideman gig when fancy strikes, for the first time in his long career (dating back to 1966, when he began playing rhythm guitar in rock bands as a teenager in his native Buffalo, NY), Morlix is ready to put his own music front and center.
"I started booking more shows a few years ago, just to conquer the fear of getting up there by myself," he says. "And then I found out that I really liked it. And I really like playing these songs, because I know I can lean back on them - I know they're strong, and they support me well. And I'm finding out that other people are moved by them, too, so I'm going to tour as much as I can with this record."
And more Morlix, as any Gurf connoisseur can tell you, can only be one thing: cool.