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  •  BAND: FRANK MOREY

    Frank Morey

    Celebrating Mass.

    Smoky-voiced troubador Frank Morey paints portraits of the locals he's known in Lowell, Mass., and turns them into all-American stories with a perfect eye for detail and ear for language.

    By JOSHUA TANZER
    Offoffoff.com

    Frank Morey's songs — sung in a gravelly, smoky, boozy voice that reminds many people of Tom Waits — feel like a deep, old species of folk music, although they never blatantly raise the ghost of Woody Guthrie or Leadbelly. What connects them with the past, the people, the earth itself, is that they're not necessarily made for VH-1 or some Tower Records in Tallahassee. They're local and personal, rooted in a specific place, Lowell, Mass., and the people who live there. They could almost have been written before railroads and radio.

      
    FRANK MOREY
    Frank Morey (guitar, vocals, harmonica)
    Scott Pittman (drums)
    Joe "Tub" Faria (bass, etc.).

    Related links: Official site
     MERCHANDISE FOR SALE 
    Available from CDBaby.com:



    The Delmark Sessions

     

    Cold in Hand

     

    Father John's Medicine

     AUDIO 
    Barflies, Dead Dreams and Rivers of Whiskey Lies   RA  MP3
    Chinese New Year   RA  MP3
    My Baby's Havin' My Baby   RA  MP3
    Slick and Mary Lou   RA  MP3
    Uncle Lefty's Lament   RA  MP3
    © 2000, 2002 Frank Morey. Used by permission.
    Whether everybody in his hometown has an oddball story or Morey just has an eye for details and a good imagination, his songs are populated by people such as you might meet at your own local diner or tavern, only a little more vivid. Coming from such a specific place somehow makes these characters real and all-American, like the people who haunt William Kennedy's Albany or Larry McMurtry's small-town Texas. They're the people who married their high school sweethearts, used to have factory jobs when there were factories, fool around although they know they'll get caught, and invest their rent money every month at the track.

    "You can sit down in some bar in Lowell and there's going to be somebody in that place that you couldn't invent," Morey says. "They're beautiful and crazy — and for some reason they all want to sit next to me."

    One of the best songs, "Uncle Lefty's Lament" (hear it on RealAudio or MP3), is about a slightly weary old-timer growing out of middle age — probably on a barstool. As Lefty tells it:

    Got an education in Vietnam,
    Got me a degree in penicillin and artillery.
    Got some Oscar award-winning nightmares,
    Got hallucinations Timothy Leary would envy.

    And I know I killed one man,
    But I get credit for wastin' seven.
    And I look forward to lay my heavy head
    Down in heaven.


    By the end of the song, we know this grizzled but proud American pretty well. He's got rules to live by ("Never joke about Jesus Christ . . . Try not to curse around ladies or babies"), connections in town ("I got friends in Appleton Street and City Hall — I know a dealer sold the mayor a lemon"), and a sense of humor ("I'm a sucker for Italian girls and food but I only drink and drive American").

    Lowell also happens to have been Jack Kerouac's hometown, and it's not obvious but the Beat Generation legend seems to be a presence in this music. In fact, the first time I saw Morey play (I had just wandered into the Living Room to kill half an hour, having no idea who was this fella with the guitar, harmonica and cigarette, looking like he's 25 and singing like he's 65), he introduced a song by asking if there were any Kerouac fans in the audience. I raised my hand.


      
    "You can sit down in some bar in Lowell and there's going to be somebody in that place that you couldn't invent. They're beautiful and crazy — and for some reason they all want to sit next to me."  
    — Frank Morey  

      
    "Yeah," Morey muttered. "Folks in Lowell don't care for Kerouac too much."

    The reason, as it turns out, has nothing to do with literature. It's local and personal.

    "It's a funny thing," he explains now, "because there's people who might have been envious of him. He wasn't working every day. He was living off royalties and he was drunk every day — notorious for bar tabs. People would say, 'This guy's got all this money but where's the tab? Where's the tip?' "

    What Morey has in common with Kerouac is, if not the bar tabs, this: Once one of the beats was asked how great it was to go out and do crazy stuff with Kerouac. And the answer was that Kerouac wasn't the guy at the center of the craziness — he was the one watching everyone else and writing down what they do. Frank Morey has that streak in him too — watching, absorbing, and describing the scene around him with a special kind of passion for people.

    Another thread that runs through Morey's lyrics is a fatalistic reverence for God that must be natural when you grow up Irish in a massively Catholic place like the Boston area. These characters grow up with the fear of God but it's like the fear of lung cancer — it's going to get them someday, and they could do the right thing about it but they know they won't. They're forever saying things like "I say my prayers in hopes that they'll save me" and "Got two hands for prayer and a nose for sin" — the words of people with one eye on salvation and one foot in hell.

    Morey jokes that he's not sure he's a real Irish Catholic anymore. "I was on my way out the door with my guitars and I heard this music on the TV, and it was the Five Blind Boys of Alabama," he says. "So I realized that I'm really a Baptist."

    Just in case all of these songs sound grim and hopeless, they're not. One very sweet song is "Slick and Mary Lou" (RealAudio, MP3), a portrait of a working-class couple with failings and humble aspirations but a lifetime of true love between them. And there's the happy and funny "My Baby's Havin' My Baby" (RealAudio, MP3), in which a downright euphoric papa-to-be ticks off all the things he wants to do now that there's a baby on the way and life is about to change forever.

    Hide the scotch in the bookshelf,
    Hide the ashtray too.
    Throw away all the girlie magazines,
    Have the girlie tattoos removed . . .

    Trade the bike for a wagon,
    Tell the boys at the bar
    Tell ma quit your naggin',
    Get a shitload of dime cigars
    Turn the dining room into a bedroom —
    'Cause my baby is havin' my baby!


    If the music business were set up to reward talent, Frank Morey would be that guy flashing cash around the streets of Lowell. From something as small as the turn of an unexpected phrase to something as big as understanding the soul of a community, there's probably not a better songwriter around. But like the people he writes about, Morey has expectations scaled to his circumstances. He'd just like to reach enough of an audience to make a living and know people are listening.

    "I've been hustling for a few years where I've been trying to get some notice from someplace," he says. "I come from a blue-collar background where I just want to work, so I just want to be able to play in a bar and sell some CDs."

    "I'm out to have a good time," he says. "I have no pipe dreams or nothin'."

    APRIL 10, 2002
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on Frank Morey:

  • Freewheelin' Francis Albert Morey   from Kevin Stevenson, Aug 14, 2002
  • Re: Freewheelin' Francis Albert Morey   from Jeffrey Zagaria, Oct 3, 2003
  • Re: Freewheelin' Francis Albert Morey   from frank, May 17, 2004
  • Frank Rocks   from Andrew, Oct 19, 2003
  • Unbelievable!   from Paul Davis, Apr 11, 2004
  • Frank in Lowell   from Evan, Apr 20, 2005
  • Morey   from Mike Burniss, May 30, 2005
  • Hope to meet you in Italy   from Mikele, Jun 6, 2005
  • working class hero   from Bob Clement, Sep 19, 2005
  • Captures the essence of my hometown   from Rob Eno, Oct 13, 2005
  • Merrimack River Song   from Doug D., Jan 17, 2006
  • CONGRATULATIONS!!!   from FERNANDA MOREY, Mar 18, 2006
  • MADE IN USA .... AMAZING!!   from Jennifer, Sep 23, 2006

  • Post a comment on "Frank Morey"