Lynn Morris,
You'll Never Be the Sun
(Rounder, 1999)

Lynn Morris has the best overall female voice in bluegrass today, primarily because she can do it all. She's got the sensitivity of Allison Krauss, the power of Suzanne Thomas, the emotional resonance of Laurie Lewis and the rootsy flavor of Hazel Dickens, and if you doubt it, just give this new CD a listen. Oh yeah, and she plays a pretty sweet guitar, too.

It's been too long since Morris's last album, Mama's Hand, back in 1995, which showed equally fine skill at not only singing and picking, but at choosing excellent band mates and superb songs. Bassist (and husband) Marshall Wilborn is still here, but Ron Stewart now handles banjo and fiddle chores, and Jesse Brock has replaced David McLaughlin on mandolin. (McLaughlin makes a guest bow on lead guitar in "Twister.") The new mix is great, and Morris' song-picking skills are also in fine form.

The twelve songs here provide a great deal of variety, from the gorgeous Celtic melody of the title song to the lighthearted froth of Wilborn's rendition of Jody Stecher's "Seventeen Cents." But the ones that work the best are those into which Morris can pour all the emotion of her homey yet transcendent voice. "You'll never be the sun," she sings, "but even on the deepest ocean / you will be the light." She also plumbs the spiritual depths of love with James Leva's "Love Beyond": "We drink without fulfillment, we will not cease to thirst / Till the first becomes last and the last becomes first." Not your usual "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms" bluegrass lyrics, are they?

There's great traditional bluegrass here as well, however. Hazel Dickens' "Scraps From Your Table" gets a kickass treatment with a fast tempo, tight harmonies and sizzling solos to tell the story of a woman who's finally had enough. "Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine," the old Pee Wee King/Redd Stewart classic, receives a dignified and simple reading, and "Wrong Road Again" is a straight-ahead tribute to the great Joe Val.

Traditional country also gets a hearing, with the old Dolly Parton-Porter Wagonner duet, "If Teardrops Were Pennies," and there's even a bluegrass version of the Leiber-Stoller song, "Destination Love." It seems as though no genre escapes the eagle eye of Lynn Morris and her band, and whatever she touches turns to musical gold. If you're a fan of bluegrass and don't know her work, shame on you. If you're into folk or acoustic in general, give her a try -- you'll not only find some great songs, but a great voice to sing them.

[ by Chet Williamson ]



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