Friday, May 18, 2012

Karl Morgan: The Nice Side of the Blues

Genuinely gifted blues guitarists are a rare find. If you’re like me, you get a little thrill when you discover one. I came across Karl Morgan last year, a musician who makes a Fender Strat sing with guileless grace.

I first saw Karl opening for Guy Forsyth at Sam’s Burger Joint. I had acquired the tickets prior to my Guy blog entry, but I had already written my post and almost didn’t go. My musical interest is often fickle - I had said what I needed to say about Guy. My ears had already a’wandered and were eagerly
awaiting Raul Malo’s arrival.  But when the night arrived, I found myself making my way south.  Fickle I may be, but the thought of unused tickets is anathema.

Karl took the stage as a 3-piece, with his bass player, Wilson Carr and drummer, John Duran. Within in minutes, I thought I had him pegged: yet another SRV clone, albeit a good one. As his set continued, however, I found myself reevaluating that first impression.  He was certainly a talented guitar player, entirely at ease with playing in the style of SRV, but there was much more to it.  45 minutes wasn’t enough: I knew by the end of his set that I would be revisiting him.  I bought his album, Talkin’ With The Hands, and promised myself I would get to know Karl Morgan better.

Karl found his way onto my iPod and onto several different playlists, but defied description in my head. Even as I write this, I feel inadequate to the challenge of doing his craft justice with my words. Yes, he’s a blues guitarist, but Karl manages to take the blues and blend in generous touches of soul, funk and jazz.  Where many blues guitarists fall into a pit of messy licks sloppily applied against a song of angst, Karl’s technique is immaculately clean and meticulous from note to note. Even on the dirty channel, his rich tone rings with musicality.  His vocals are only secondary because of the stunning beauty of his guitar work; his voice is smoothly twangy with a rich timbre and slightly rough edge. It blends perfectly with his instrumentals.

I always find myself categorizing musicians against a line-up of those who hold places near and dear to my heart.  In that spirit, Karl takes the best of Seth Walker’s amazing tone and musicality, his technique and finesse, and brings in bits of the raw and rough bluesy sounds of Tab Benoit. Blended together in perfect balance, Karl’s guitar work is a poignant work of art for the ears.

I’ve seen him a couple of times in downtown Austin the last few weeks. Watching his right hand pluck and work the strings up high close to the fret board, while his left moves deftly along the neck, is simply mesmerizing.  Wilson Carr on bass and John Duran on drums provide perfectly tight and rhythmically complex accompaniment to Karl’s guitar work.  Cherry on the top: Karl is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet gigging in Austin.

Burning Heart is Karl's new album, and I absolutely love it.  With music that holds the spotlight on guitar, it’s easy to fall into a rut where, a few licks in, it all tastes like beans.  Karl’s new album defies that analogy and incorporates several different styles and sounds, including some brilliant acoustic work. In fact, that is my next goal: to see Karl with his acoustic in hand, alone on stage.

He’s got a residency at The Dogwood every Tuesday at 7. You can walk up, order a drink, and listen for free. Better yet, order a couple of drinks and put money in his tip jar. Buy a CD. You won’t be sorry, you’ll realize how blessed we are to have such a jewel in our fair city.

Side note: Last Tuesday night, while I was catching Karl at the Dogwood, another Karl fan made his way over to my table and joined me for a set. This fellow confessed to me that he no longer brought chicks to see Karl, since he has lost two to Karl’s good looks and Australian accent. He found this somewhat baffling, since Karl was “…like REALLY old, like at least 30….” Needless to say, Betty sitting across from him, basking in her At-Least-40-Year Old glory found this somewhere between hysterically funny and slightly offensive.

Your Good Man quickly found its way onto my "angst cure" playlist:

This video of Two Words shows Karl's beautiful guitar artistry:

Two Strong Arms - this is beautiful acoustic work: