Artist: MORGAN FRIEND
Title: Angel Goin' Down
Morgan Friend has been bouncing around the Ottawa music scene for a couple of decades, playing with a
variety of bands, most recently the sarcastically-named Bible All-Stars. On his solo debut, Friend has
thrown together a casual collection of his bawdy, humorous country ditties, recorded live around a
microphone with a collection of his buddies, the way families and friends used to gather on the back
porch or in the parlor, singing the favorites of the day. The informal recording process adds a light touch
that perfectly complements Friend‟s rough-hewn vocals, simple but catchy folk and country melodies,
and often comedic or satirical lyrics. Stylistically, this Canadian mixes up a mishmash of downhome
Americana that includes cornpone country, bluegrass, gospel, and folk, with obvious nods to the likes of
Hayes Carll, John Prine, and the folkie wit of Loudon Wainwright III. The album mixes acoustic guitars
with country fiddle, banjo, bass, dulcimer and drums, provided by an array of cronies including former
Bible All-Stars bassist Joel Carlson.
Friend even pays homage to Wainwright‟s sole radio hit “Dead Skunk” with a roadkill anthem of his
own, the very funny “Squirrel In The Ditch,” in which Friend reckons that it don‟t much matter which
varmint is in your stew pot since “it all tastes like chicken with a little moonshine.” (This song, like
several others on the album, makes the assumption that it is still politically correct to lampoon hillbillies
and rednecks. Should you be of either of those persuasions, please be advised accordingly.)
The album begins with a honky-tonk rocker with thumping bass about the prettiest but baddest girl back
home, a “devil in high heels” that Friend describes as an “Angel Going Down.” The four-letter words
flow fast and loose, marking Morgan Friend‟s material as adult but nonetheless easygoing and congenial.
The subject matter (although not really the tone) turns more serious on “Pike River Mine Disaster,” a
story song that recalls Johnny Cash in its dire tell of “the lost 29” who went down in the local mine and
died in a cave-in. A bluegrass arrangement accompanies the story of the tough life of the coalminer, who
“lose 20 years as their lungs turn black” asks us to raise a glass to the brave 29 who were lost in the
disaster. It‟s an excellent folkie work song; if there‟s one problem with it, it‟s that Friend‟s jocular vocal
tone makes it feel like there‟s a punchline coming. But neither the subject matter nor the theme of
saluting the working class is anything to be taken lightly.
Speaking of whistling through the graveyard, how about a drinking song about checking out of rehab?
That‟s the theme of the satirical “Charlie Sheen,” which is not about the infamous actor/trainwreck as
much as it‟s about his eff-you attitude. At a minute forty, it‟s a quick, silly, sloppy singalong that‟s good
for a quick laugh.
Things get a little more serious with “Sophia Jane,” a modern-day sea chantey in waltz time that
showcases some lovely dulcimer and accordion. “It was the fall of „44” when they met, Friend sings, but
he could easily mean 1844; not just the instrumentation but the use of old-timey lyrics like “in the town
where I was born” and “I‟ll never see that girl again” give the track the air of coming to us from another
“Bonnechere” opens with a church-like a cappella verse before segueing into a twangy remembrance of
Friend‟s rural origins, recalling John Prine‟s “Paradise.” There‟s some nice pickin‟ on the bridge as the
story progresses into a traditional murder ballad – violence, jurisprudence, nostalgia, and judgment all
delivered in a few economic verses and a catchy singalong chorus. “Kandahar” salutes the troops
protecting our freedoms in foreign lands, set to a twangy, uptempo bluegrass melody.
“No One But Me To Blame” tells the story of a man who took a wrong turn in the road, set to a lilting
country waltz; “the bottle keeps calling and I heed the call,” Friend sings. “There‟ll be no hallelujah, no
pearly gates, I‟m going straight to the flames.” This kind of sinner‟s lament is pure country cornpone, of
course, but somehow Friend keeps it fresh. The live recording helps; it almost sounds as if you‟re hearing
this broadcast live on the radio.
So where does Friend take us next? Why, to the Wild West, of course! “Old Alberta Red” is a cowboy
song about the life and death of a gunslinger, which Friend speak/sings with a distorted vocal over a
plucky acoustic blues riff. It‟s the sort of track that could have thrived as a novelty single back in the
“Reap And Sow” and “Jack Daniels” both take us back to the honky tonk for a couple more drinking
songs, with Friend flexing his funny bone and ripping out some truly inspired couplets. To wit: “Beer is
much colder and red wine is older, but Jack Daniels don‟t need my name; five shots was nice so I did it
up twice; Jack, I‟m really glad that you came.”
“She Hurts” is a straight-up shot of Hank Williams, a bluesy boozy lover‟s lament with a classic
punchline: “I never call her by her own name…but she started answering to yours.” It‟s corny, it‟s
schmaltzy, but it works, and the little dulcimer solo in the bridge is just heartbreaking all by itself. This
song epitomizes why people love country music; it‟s so simple, it almost seems like the song is writing
itself, but it really takes a dang clever sumbitch to come up with lines like this.
“It‟s Getting Late” is the perfect song for closing time: “it‟s time to go, wish I could stay; I gotta go, go
away.” It‟s not a bad way to end an album either. Like everything we‟ve heard before, it‟s tuneful,
clever, and leaves us with a smile. Can‟t ask for much more than that.
Review by Jim Testa
Rating: 3 Stars (out of 5)