RB Morris’s Going Back To The Sky is the music playing at a nameless Esso gas station/Chubby Chicken Restaurant smack dab in the middle of Nowhere, U.S.A.
And to quote the poet, Walt Whitman, “I hear America singing” in these lonesome grooves that spin like threadbare Goodyear tires down a steel pedaled road that still, even after all these years, are able to kick up enough dust to cloud the view of a new Wal-Mart store in mythical America. By the way, that Chubby Chicken Restaurant was cited as ground zero for “the original secret sauce” that made their “chubby chicken” to be acclaimed as “world famous”.
Let’s face it: Everything about America oozes with the words, “world famous,” with or without a “secret sauce.”
The opening ‘Prelude I’ is an acoustic guitar and harmonica fueled instrumental that is a brief sagebrush overture that pensively introduces these big sky (almost cinematic) songs. And yes, indeed, there is the parched hope of ‘Prelude II’ that further unifies, in its instrumental brevity, the holy trinity of the American soul: an expectant dream, a fatalistic reality, and a Mississippi River that flows, with Huck Finn and Jim on their raft, into the mythical possibility of rebirth.
Going Back To The Sky is a very literary record. ‘Red Sky’ finds the hitch-hiking pilgrim who is “beginning to wonder if you can get there from here”. There are wishes galore – but “it’s going to rain just the same”. Then, thankfully, there is some simple redemption (and even comfort!) in the hospitality of ‘Me And My Wife Ruth’ – in which that very same hitch-hiking pilgrim gets a ride into really decent Americana slide guitar hospitality. And then, there’s deep symbolism (in the guise of a simple tale) with ‘Missouri River Hat Incident’, during which a man wishing “the taste of that western air”, chases his runaway straw hat, blown by the “wind that was on a roll”. That fanciful American dream is always, to quote Bob Dylan, “blowin’ in the wind”. Indeed, “How many roads must a man walk down” and “How many times must the cannonballs fly”. Odd, sometimes it’s the simple stuff that causes all the confusion—and, perhaps, a bit of old-fashioned symbolic wisdom.
‘Somewheres West’ is a brief guitar interlude that introduces ‘Montana Moon’, which is half-spoken, with the songwriting speaker (along with his companion called “Dustbowl”) detailing a drive into a symbolic blizzard while “the radio blows cold air” which of course, juxtaposes that expective dream against the fatalistic realty that (sort of) echoes the very Americana Stephen Crane ‘Open Boat’ short story (about lifeboat survivors desperately trying to find the salvation of the shore) which simply acknowledges a cold truth with the words, “We’re not there yet”. Ghosts of America’s history haunt the song.
And that’s the frustration of America: We are, forever and a day, “not there yet”.
But, once again, the pessimism is rescued with the jovial freedom of ‘That’s Just The Way I Do’ which “in long walks in the rain” revels in the momentary freedom found in any hitch-hiking pilgrim’s always hopeful thumb. And the personified ‘Old Copper Penny’, again, conjures the underdog spirit of America that can, against all odds (at least so far!) still manage to survive—with the requisite mandolin and fiddle framework. Next, ‘Six Black Horses And A 72oz. Steak’ jogs around with a stream of conscience lyric and the bubbly electric guitar. The tune is clever and weird in a Bob Dylan sort of way. And then the pace perks up with ‘Under A Cigar Tree’, which is a crisscross between any local mariachi party band and the greatest hits of Mark Knopfler and his Dire Straits.
The title tune, ‘Going Back To The Sky’, is a languid look (with steel pedal seasoning) at the memory of Gram Parsons as he walked ‘The Streets Of Baltimore’. Yeah, it’s that good.
And, ‘One In A Blue Moon’ is a campfire night serenade. It’s that good, too.
The album ends with the near prayer of ‘Walking Song’, a tune that slow steps hope toward some impossible promise of “a good peace of mind”. Ahh—that holy trinity of the American soul: an expectant dream, a fatalistic reality, and a Mississippi River that flows, with Huck Finn and Jim on their raft, into the mythical possibility of rebirth—still vibrates with a dream that drips into the waltzed final grooves, with even more Dylan breath, and just looks for “something that can’t be bought” which, perhaps, is forever “blown’” in some “idiot wind”. Indeed, this is a very American album that’s worthy of some Esso gas station/Chubby Chicken restaurant in the middle of Nowhere, U.S.A.—where everything is “world famous” and always has an “original” very Western folk singer-songwriter “secret sauce”.
Artist’s website: https://www.rbmorris.com/
‘Me And My Wife Ruth’ – live:
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