In light of their performance at The Smiths Alternative, The Morrisons should no longer be defined as simply a band, but rather some sort of hurricane-like natural phenomenon. As they re-grouped mid-set for another number, guitarist, vocalist and co-frontman James Morrison spoke of the band’s early days when, crammed on tiny stages, they’d ‘play too fast, sing too loud [and] drink too much.’ It may be the case that Smith’s Alternative provided a roomier setting and the band were perhaps soberer than their origin days. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine more energy than was presented that night as the Sydney-based bluegrass/folk outfit took the stage to promote their debut self-titled album.
Influenced by the decades-old bluegrass tradition, The Morrisons would not sound amiss drifting through the doors of a bar in Tennessee or Alabama. Heavy guitar strumming, accompanied by the familiar twang of the banjo and mandolin, support close-knit four-part harmonies and interjections from the fiddle or harmonica. The ensemble is rounded out by a steady rhythmic bass line and snare drum. This is as authentic as country music gets, and The Morrisons offer a performance that is both informed and genuine.
It would, however, be unfair to suggest that this is simply ‘Australians playing American music’. The Morrisons have struck that delicate balance between creating music that is authentic and respectful of its roots while bringing something fresh and different to the genre. Subtle changes to traditional instrumentation and tonality bring a unique voice to the country canon. This is compounded by their distinctly Australian song themes, musing on the North Queensland sugar cane industry or housing prices in Sydney’s suburbs.
As is expected in the bluegrass tradition, so many songs seemed to descend into a collective jam – and yet, there was no uncertainty or mindless noodling. Every member knew their part and executed it with pitch-perfect precision. This band cannot be faulted on their technical prowess on their respective instruments.
The most surprising element of the evening, however, was the way The Morrisons peppered their animated and vibrant set with moments of real tenderness and emotion. ‘Route March’, an homage to Henry Lawson’s mournful war poem by the same name, offered the band an opportunity to deliver a performance that was far more heartfelt and intimate. The raw delivery of this devastating lament managed to silence the previously boisterous crowd that had built up energy throughout the night. A similar silence fell over the audience when all but frontman James Morrison and his guitar left the stage for ‘Turn the Light On’. These moments helped demonstrate The Morrisons’ ability to deliver not just clever toe-tapping compositions, but also passionate and engaging moments of sincerity that kept the Smith’s crowd hooked from start to finish.
In the end, greatest credit should really go to the production team of The Morrisons’ debut album. The album is a worthy listen, and you don’t have to be a country fan to find something to love. I can only imagine how hard it must have been to bottle that incredible energy up into one recording because what was presented at Smiths was immense, and there really isn’t much else like it.
The Morrisons’ music is available for purchase on iTunes, at themorrisonsband.com, or can be streamed on Spotify.