Cary Morin – When I Rise | Album Review

Cary Morin – When I Rise

Self-release, Oct 2018

12 songs, 41 minutes

Colorado-based Cary Morin is a Crow tribal member who was born in Billings, Montana, where he made his bones picking guitar standards at neighborhood get-togethers, before relocating to Northern Colorado. There, as he played with various artists as well as performing under his own name, his formal musical career took off. For his 6th album, Morin presents us with both his acoustic and electric side, and the result is quite good indeed!

Of the dozen tunes on When I Rise, 10 are originals, with the addition of Morin’s unique take on Duane Allman’s “Little Martha” and a quietly haunting interpretation of the Garcia-Hunter classic, “Dire Wolf.” In addition to Morin, personnel on this album include Steve Amedée on drums, percussion; Paul Benjaman on electric guitar; Celeste Di Iorio on vocals; Jay Forrest on drums; Jason Larson on vocals along with piano and bass; Dexter Payne on clarinet and harmonica; Kim Stone on acoustic and electric bass; Andy Weyl on piano; and Lionel Young on violin. The album was produced by Stone, Di Iorio, and Larson.

Morin has won numerous awards for his work, including for his 2017 release, Cradle to the Grave, and most recently, When I Rise, which was nominated for 2019 Best Blues Album by the Indigenous Music Awards. He was the recipient of the 2018 Independent Music Awards for Best Blues CD (Cradle to the Grave), a 2018 International Songwriting Competition Honorable Mention for Cradle to the Grave, a 2018 Native Arts and Cultures Fellowship, a 2017 First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership Fellowship, the 2017 Indigenous Music Awards for Best Blues CD (Cradle to the Grave), 2015 Indigenous Music Awards Nominee for Best Folk Album (Tiny Town), 2014 Indigenous Music Awards Nominee for Aboriginal Entertainer of the Year, 2013 & 2014 Colorado Blues Challenge Solo Championship, and a 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Fort Collins Music Association (FoCoMA) and won the Colorado Fan Favorite Poll in the blues category for his second solo release, Streamline.

As a reviewer – and a performing musician – I listen to a great deal of music, much of which is new to me, and When I Rise is no exception. I was not at all familiar with Morin, but from the moment I slipped the disc into my car’s CD player, I was hooked. Drawing on his own experiences, Morin creates vivid, evocative stories that perfectly complement his stellar fingerstyle playing. With an approach that falls somewhere between Leo Kottke and James Taylor, and a voice with echoes of the late Lowell George, Morin captivates and entertains with his singing, his songwriting, and his very solid playing. I also get a bit of the Betts-era Allmans, especially apparent in Morin’s approach to melody.

The title track that opens this collection features a haunting fiddle accompaniment that drones behind Morin’s minor-key, atonal pulse that calls to mind Skip James, while still bearing Morin’s distinctive imprint.

“Let Me Hear the Music” feels like it should be wafting out of a quiet New Orleans speakeasy, circa 1938. Dexter Payne’s warm, lyrical clarinet weaves in and out of Morin’s expressive fingerstyle accompaniment. I could listen to this one over and over… well, admittedly, I have done just that.

“Jug in the Water” appears twice on this CD, once with a full band arrangement, and again as a solo acoustic number. With origins in old-timey blues and Cajun music – along with a nod to Doug Kershaw’s classic “Louisiana Man” – both versions are wonderful, with the acoustic version scoring a just a bit higher on my personal preference.

Morin’s unique interpretation of “Little Martha” lifts the basic theme, but then takes it to a whole different place in Morin’s fertile imagination, becoming almost unrecognizable while maintaining the delicate sweetness of Duane Allman’s original arrangement.

Other standout tracks include the joyful “Lay Baby Lay”, the melancholy wistfulness of “Devoted One,” and the contemplative “We Used to Be,” with its expressive steel guitar intro and lilting vocal harmonies.

Talking about the songs on When I Rise, Morin says “…the songs that shaped the CD came from listening to music, lots of music. I was inspired by the Lomax collection, particularly a compilation titled Negro Prison Songs from the Mississippi State Penitentiary. I believe I first heard this in Italy of all places, but I am struck by its simplicity and the depth of the music.”

It’s difficult to comprehend just how good Morin is – as a songwriter, arranger, lyricist, and guitarist – because he does it all so well, without ever appearing flashy or self-conscious. It’s obvious that he listens to – and demonstrates great respect for – a wide variety of music. And, like a chef with a drawer full of exotic seasonings, he knows just how to sprinkle tasty little bits throughout both his songwriting and his playing. The result is a rich stew of folk, blues, jazz, rock, and even pop, melded into a remarkable – and very satisfying – personal style

Bottom line? If you like your country blues, and old-timey Americana music with rootsy, propulsive grooves, played with satisfying precision and whole lot of soul, you should definitely check out Cary Morin’s When I Rise. And while you’re at it, hop on over to YouTube to check out some of his “live” videos – including his bluesy, solo acoustic version of Steely Dan’s “Black Friday” – you won’t be disappointed!

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