Joshua Morrison ::: photo by Abbey Simmons
Last Friday (January 29th) at the Tractor Tavern, Seattle celebrated the release of Joshua Morrison‘s long-awaited EP, Builder. Though when I say celebrated, I’m not talking the usual rowdy antics of a record release, Joshua Morrison does not write swinging from the chandeliers celebration songs. I mean celebrated as a collective of people who joined together to show their gratitude that Joshua Morrison is home. That Joshua Morrison is still alive. And that Joshua Morrison has chosen to cope through song, instead of at the bottom of a bottle or worse, to not cope at all.
Joshua Morrison sings of home. In fact, that was the title of his first critically acclaimed debut record, released in 2007 between tours of duty in Iraq. So when Morrison, a strapping man with a surprisingly delicate voice, sings with longing of home you know its no soft-minded notion. On Home, Morrison sang with love for a home he might never see again, one that he dreamed of during dusty desert nights. Four years later and after a second tour of duty, Morrison is home for good. Yet his follow-up EP, Builder is full of the same listless longing for the safety and comfort of home. A home that, despite having returned to, is still metaphorically thousands of miles away.
Over the course of six, short, simple songs, Morrison makes his anguish apparent and that while he’s back from battle, a new struggle has begun. He opens the album singing of a “war in my heart.” On the album’s title tracks he sings, “I seem to keep misplacing the simplest of things, not the least of all my mind.” And the chorus of “Kill Devil Hills” laments “this saboteur sweet self destruction.”
Despite being only six songs, there are a few contenders for Builder‘s quintessential track, but its “Mute” that hits the hardest. Much like “Home,” the beloved title track of his debut, “Mute” speaks in a vocabulary and of an experience that Morrison shares with soldiers and veterans across the world. Reminiscent of David Bazan’s unflinching retelling of his struggles with faith and alcohol on Curse Your Branches, Builder offers an an unvarnished glimpse into the day-to-day reality of finally coming home and what you leave behind on the battlefield.
I try my best to hold my tongue when they ask me what they think. Should we stay the course or cut and run? It doesn’t matter what I believe. Cause you and I know the truth, that you were meant for more than missing. The bluest eyes I’ve ever known, I’m going home with so much less. You and I know that you deserve so much more than this.
“Mute” makes it clear, that while Morrison and his fellow soldiers who return home alive are the lucky ones, their fate is anything but. These are the struggles every NPR listener knows our soldier’s face when returning home and Morrison’s tells of their shared burden in song. And for Morrison and the men and women who share his story, these are songs that need to be sung and to be heard.
Of course, people don’t listen to albums or songs just because they have something important to say, and luckily for Morrison Builder is full of songs that stick with you for more than the solemn sincerity of his lyrics. Backed by a full band on the album and on stage, Morrison plays with enough influences–warm lap steel guitar on some songs, aloof electronic strains on others–that it keeps the listener engaged more than emotionally. And at the center of Builder is Morrison’s whiskeyed whisper; a sweet, soft tone with just a hint of roughness. At a notoriously chatty bar like the Tractor, its a voice apt to get lost in the din, and it did a few times on Friday night, but recorded and listened to in the quiet of your headphones or home, Morrison’s voice is in its own right, an achingly lovely confessional.
Returning home after Morrison’s release show, I logged on to see what I missed on the internet, as I always do. At the top of my Twitter feed, from a user I can no longer recall, was the following statistic: “For the second year in a row, more US soldier’s died at their own hands than in combat.” On any evening it would be a sobering statistic, but after a night with a man as talented as Joshua Morrison, a soldier who is struggling, it hit like a sharp punch to the gut. Truth that knocks the wind right out of your lungs. So is Builder.
“The shit we’ve seen makes it hard to believe that things will be alright, gonna be alright, now that’s a lie. Its been such a long time since I could say with the slightest conviction things will be alright, gonna be alright.” – September
Joshua Morrison ::: photo by Abbey Simmons