Unsolicited Endorsement: Cashavelly Morrison

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The show is lodged in my sense memory for a number of reasons. One, it was my last assignment as a regular music writer for Triad City Beat. Two, it was a couple nights after the 2016 election, and the atmosphere at the Garage was suffused with a sense of shock and dread, but also a warm circle of friendship, as if bound by a pledge that everybody would get through the next four years together.

But mostly it was the music: First, Cashavelly Morrison (both the performing name of the singer-songwriter and the name of the musical project that includes her multi-instrumentalist husband), whose lustrous and beguiling voice effortlessly filled the room. Then, Ryan MacLeod, said multi-instrumentalist and husband, whose searching and inventive guitar playing paid the perfect complement to his wife’s voice while pushing the music in unexpected directions. Then, the crack band, which that night included drummer Aaron Bachelder, bassist John Ray and guitarists Daniel Seriff and Luke Payne, who fleshed the songs into their full dynamic potential.

I loved Cashavelly Morrison’s music from the first time I heard the duo at the final Phuzz Phest in April 2016. I’ve loved the quality of the music that suggests Appalachian ballads from a century past, and the novelistic texture of the Morrison’s lyrics. And I witnessed the couple admire Lera Lynn, for whom they opened that night, and MacLeod emulate Lynn’s western noir sound, which would carry into the new album due this week.

But it was that night seven months later at the Garage that helped me forge a personal relationship with the music. It was the end of a good and satisfying run for me as a music writer, and the beginning of a sobering and scary time in a broader social context.

Beyond the actual horrors of the past two years — too many to itemize here — from my own entirely subjective viewpoint, the Trump years have not only polarized the country as a whole but strained the bonds of solidarity among the fractured ranks of the opposition. I sense the terrible toll that’s already been exacted.

So it’s fascinating to hear the fruits of Cashavelly Morrison’s labor over the same period. In addition to a more expansive sound than their 2015 debut, The Kingdom Belongs to a Child, the songs on Hunger bloom with the cryptic integrity of good short stories, but the concerns of Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, the March for Our Lives and the election lurk not far below the surface.

I have a feeling I’ll be listening to this album a lot in the next couple months, like getting reacquainted with an old friend. It’s not surprising that the gestation period for this album has been more than three years. The MacLeods are perfectionists, and they juggled recording the album with raising children and earning a living. In many ways, Hunger feels like a document of the damage done, and somehow there’s some strange comfort in taking stock of it.

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