Spooky Girl with the Helen Keller Shoes
a Turnan/Hurley Production
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Owl Morrison is not like the other girls. Nor does she want to be. While long-tressed singer-songwriters pensively strum their guitars and fret about their relationships, shaved-headed Owl is sawing away at her viola while wailing out songs about politics and gender, societal injustice and the relativity of truth. She sounds like no one else you've ever heard; years from now, singer-songwriters will come along and get labeled "another Owl Morrison wannabe." |
On her first CD, Spooky Girl with the Helen Keller Shoes, Owl displays the many sides of her intellect, her emotional range, and her diverse musical style. She starts out slowly, though: her first couple songs, Movin and Somedays, are sort of average, tentative, like she doesn't want to hit you with too much at once, just offer some general observations about life and getting through the day. Don't get me wrong: both songs are wise and clearly heartfelt. But not until the third song, Gumball, as Owl plays an ominous vamp on her viola, does she become, well, spooky, and we first catch a deeper glimpse of her creative psyche in surreal lyrics about lost friendship.
By her fourth song, Capital T, she's ready to tell the establishment just what they can do with their judgmental, three-piece-suit morality.
It must be said that on this cut, and a few others on which she is joined by a band, the musicianship is not totally together, it's kind of ragged and loose, but that's okay, it's the spirit of the lyrics that counts and the verve and joy of the playing, like the Grateful Dead on a weird but happy night.
Speaking of which, the next song, Indiana Jones, is a sweet little honky-tonk tune about the joys and tribulations faced by happy pot afficionados looking to score a bag before a concert. Not only is it a fun song but it's also important, see, it carries over the ideas from Capital T to a story about people enjoying life and not harming anybody else but nonetheless doing something that could get them thrown in jail. Where's the justice? The justice is simply in the enjoyment of life on your own terms, which seems to be the over-arching message of Owl's songs.
If I had room, I would not hesitate to quote each song, there's something pertinent and thought-provoking and just plain joyous in each of the thirteen cuts on this cd. Sorely Pine is an a-capella tribute to departed friends who lived their truths. Angry Young Man lashes out against the discrepancies between gender roles. School, co-written with Monk Wilson, and one of the most intricately arranged songs on the album, is a scathing indictment against that ubiquitous institution, and includes the quite pertinent line, "You should be grateful I'm just skippin 'stead of coming in packin' a gun." Blah Blah Song, also written by Wilson, seems to be an indictment against the insanity of American consumerism, among other things. And The Muse is a sad ballad to an artist's demons, a quiet song but raw as an open wound, with Owl strumming mandola and accompanied by the lilting, Eastern-European-sounding accordion of Jennifer Mansfield.
A couple of instrumentals, Charlie Brown's Lament from the famous off-Broadway musical, and the trad-sounding Yon Yohnson's Jig, further showcase Owl's musical versatility. And what to make of Buffalo Boy/Buffalo Girl? A collaboration with Chris Chandler, the piece is a spoken-word short story, written and read by Chandler with musical accompaniment and lyrics by Owl. The tale of an artistic high school nerd who introduces the joys of poetry to the football team and cheerleading squad, the cut is a generous and daring experiment, accomplished again with joy and total lack of self- consciousness. You get the feeling Owl succeeds with it simply because she knew she would. She's a spooky girl, alright. She's not like the other girls who all dress the same and hang around in cliques in the school hallway. She shaves her head and dresses weird and hangs out with the other few freaks. She wears Helen Keller shoes because she walks a road the rest of us can't see, guided by her own strange inner light, unafraid to use her voice, no matter how painful the words, no matter how uncomfortable they make the rest of us feel. She's an Owl: she sees in the dark, the night is her best friend, and she shows no mercy to her prey.
That's my take anyway. If I'm going way wide with this, Owl Morrison will most likely not hesitate to tell me where to go.