Born Melissa Diane Meredith Bickey in West Virginia, her stage name a combination of the maiden names of paternal grandmother and mother, respectively, and working in collaboration with husband, guitarist and co-writer Ryan MacLeod, Hunger is her second album and, again, tackles themes of racism, the abuse of power and female empowerment.
With musical influences drawn from traditional Appalachian roots (Jean Ritchie a prime influence), coloured by the desert noir mood of resonant slide guitar, it opens with the title track, a number about how the powerful feed off the vulnerable with the striking image of how “they come-a-stealing the babies from our beds…they drag them from behind and skin them for their hides”.
Musically heading from the widescreen plains to the mountains, featuring MacLeod on banjo and John Teer on fiddle, the lyrically timely ‘Gunmaker’ is another dark, brooding song sung in the voice of the titular character experiencing a crisis of conscience about the consequences of an occupation (“how will I pay for this slaughter of the lambs”) pursued to earn a living to care for his daughter, terrified that she too could become a victim of his craft.
The themes of both songs coalesce in the slow strummed, exhaustedly sung chug of ‘Night Feeding’ in which, having recently given birth to her second child, she details a mother’s nightmare about her crying baby daughter, the notion of the predators waiting out there and a call for her to be the wolf and not the fawn.
That dark, almost gothic, storytelling vein continues into the pedal steel streaked, strummed murder ballad ‘Hue And Cry’, the gentle melody counterpointed by the lyrics, evoking dread in the opening line “I told Mama he was swinging a knife” and proceeding to recount a tale that conjures bloody images of Herod’s massacre of the children, persecution and ethnic cleansing.
The album’s thematic thread on the harm that befalls children continues to be woven through the dreamy undulating melody of ‘Sixteen’, the poetic imagery of flowing water and shedding addressing a theme of the physical and emotional changes that come with adolescent through the lens of body image and lines like “I Braille my skin”.
She returns to storytelling mode for sparsely strummed, rumbling drums of ‘Ashes White’, a traditional folk influenced murder ballad in which, her husband, brandishing a gun, demands the name of his white wife’s lover, the father of her child, and she names an innocent black man who, with the lyric referencing crucifixion and Calvary, pays the price of her sin. Banjo to the fore once more, the slow snaking ‘Who Will Testify’ again draws on images of water and drowning, the innocent “pulled under the wave of your wake” as, Trump as a mental target, she addresses those whose lives and reputations are built on deceit.
Then, at six minutes the longest track, ‘School Girls’ returns to themes of exploited womanhood with what seems to be a lyric about young girls dancing in seedy clubs and bars, taking “blow by blow” for the sexual pleasure of others (“Call her pretty, toss her gold”), a minimal circling baritone guitar pattern underpinning the melancholic waltz before the track erupts, four minutes swelling to a drum-heavy climax.
It ends with the brushed drums and pedal steel of the world-weary, hushed vocals of ‘The Altar’, water again present in an enigmatic lyric (“the statue envies the altar”) that’s guessingly an image of society as a “locust swarm, where some protect and some harm, where some eat what belongs to the other” and the need for universality, but which is wide open for interpretation.
In world where there are those that feed and there are those that are fed upon, Cashavelly Morrison’s album is the soup kitchen for those who seeking nourishment in condemnation of their suffering and inspiration in the solidarity and call for change on its menu. Feast on it.
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Artist’s website: www.cashavellymorrison.com
‘Hunger’ – official video: