Album Of The Week

December 6, 2020

Exception To The Rule

Cary Morin: ‘Spirituality seems to weave its way into my work more often as the years pass…’ (Photo: Joi Grinde)


By David McGee



Cary Morin

Cary Morin LLC


Anyone who’s been paying attention to Cary Morin’s art for the past few years should have seen Dockside Saints coming. Since first emerging best known as a gifted, unique guitarist, Crow tribal member Morin has gone on to make a series of albums—electric with a band and solo acoustic, notably on a trilogy of stunning albums culminating in 2017’s gem, Cradle to the Grave—that have elevated his songwriting to a position commensurate with his reputation as an instrumentalist. In the past three years since Cradle, he has not only refined his songwriting further and demonstrated how even the most gifted of instrumentalists always find room for deeper, more meaningful expressiveness, but he’s also literally found his voice. That is to say, with every album he’s become a more nuanced vocalist while plumbing for deeper levels of feeling. Amazing as it may sound, this most personal and most self-aware of songwriters has continued to strip away any constraints or reservations he may have had about cutting too close to the bone for comfort in articulating everything from frank admissions of personal shortcomings to gratitude for the love blessing his life to an ever-heightened sense of spiritual guidance leading him to the next outpost on his artistic journey. On Dockside Saints, all the elements of this journey congeal, magnificently and powerfully, in service to a fully realized work of art. He’s on his own plane now.

Back in 2017, in commenting on the content of Cradle to the Grave, Morin said the theme of spirituality “seems to weave its way into my work more often as the years pass. Perhaps its impending mortality. I hope we are put on this earth to help each other and should we find ourselves alone for some reason, there is still someone there with us, a higher power to help us complete our journey.”

‘Exception to the Rule,’ Cary Morin, from Dockside Saints

Those weren’t idle words, animating as they are many of Morin’s new songs on Saints. What makes them all so much more affecting is the raw, visceral vocalizing, so profoundly personal, especially when coupled to his and his band’s intensely committed support—every note, sung and played, betrays there being something at stake here. When he sings, we’re hearing something here we haven’t heard to this degree before. He’s taken the phrase “kicking it up a notch” to absurd heights.

‘Tonight,’ Cary Morin, from Dockside Saints

Herein the artist’s deeply personal investment in every facet of his music is bound to stir souls and bring some to their knees. In the bluesy mea culpa “Exception to the Rule,” he moans, “I know I’m not that easy to be around,” and if you close your eyes you would swear he’s channeling Gregg Allman from the afterlife, as the song’s thick, organ-enhanced groove serves to heighten the impact of what reveals itself as a powerful love song. Equally close to the bone, “Valley of the Chiefs” poetically addresses a true family tale of Morin’s grandmother being kidnapped by a neighboring tribe, set to an ominous shuffling backdrop of brush drums and Morin’s precision fingerpicking. Arguably—because cases could credibly be made for a couple of other instances—the most scintillating demonstration of his atmospheric fingerpicking rolls out in “Tonight,” a heady sonic collage of cannon-shot drumming propelling the action forward. As piano and organ riff in near-Impressionistic bursts around Morin’s cascading fingerpicked lines, the song unfolds to be kin to “Exception to the Rule” in the heartfelt musings of a man feeling unmoored, finding comfort in “going out on the river” where the water “turns incandescent” in the light and seems to buoy his resolve to “go back home tonight” where waits one who is “a muse to me/you help me break on through.”  Really, no other artist writes love songs quite like Morin’s, in which the expressed passions are often inextricably linked to experiences in the natural world.

‘Valley of the Chiefs,’ Cary Morin, from Dockside Saints

‘Bare Trees,’ Cary Morin, an instrumental from Dockside Saints

But bear in mind the setting here: for Dockside Saints, Morin traveled to Maurice, Louisiana, to Dockside Studio, a facility becoming more fabled by the day and perhaps memorable to blues fans for being B.B. King’s studio of choice for a couple of his finest late-career albums. In the true spirit of laissez les bon temps rouler, Morin kicks off the festivities with a shimmering Cajun-flavored workout, “Nobody Gotta Know,” with Corey Ledet’s accordion adding the proper regional spice, Eric Adcock stepping up with a blend of Jerry Lee and James Booker on piano before clearing the field for a searing electric guitar solo, presumably by Morin (John Fohl and Keith Blair are also credited on electric guitar in the album sessionography) to get the album off to an electrifying start ahead of the aforementioned “Exception to The Rule.” He returns to the festive mood later in a strutting instrumental, “Cary’s Groove,” notable for the accordion setting the stage up front before Morin steps in with to explore the upper reaches of the guitar neck with a spiky, serpentine solo before the assembled multitude regroups to bring it all back home in grand style. About midway through comes the first instrumental, “Bare Trees,” a sonically scintillating (solo instruments mixed hot up front, over a swirling, elegiac backdrop fashioned by other instruments—notably a fiddle [Beau Thomas]) seemingly at large in the land, free and searching. To give credit where credit is due, producer Tony Daigle, a multi-Grammy winner and Dockside founder, and engineer Jim DeMaine, two total pros, have fashioned a soundscape that captures and frames the moods and shifting textures of Morin’s song as well as could be imagined.

The proceedings wind down with pedal steel, acoustic and electric guitars animating a thumping blues celebrating persistence in “Come the Rain,” returning to a common Morin theme of the elements bringing comfort and renewal. It’s the capper on another Cary Morin triumph, but this time something is different: it feels like he’s pulling away from the pack.