Neal Morgan | Neal Morgan | PDX-006 (June 17th, 2014)

NEAL MORGAN / NEAL MORGAN extends Morgan’s interest in composing exclusively with his own drumming and voice, following the drummer/singer-songwriter’s previous full-lengths, To The Breathing World (2009) and In the Yard (2012), both self-released and distributed by Drag City. But this time the songs are spoken.

NEAL MORGAN is an introspective and intense body of work. The record is composed of two parts. Side A features five songs, all spoken a cappella and recorded in one take. Among them is a response to Philip Guston paintings and a love song tied to Ravel’s solo piano performance of “Pavane for a Dead Princess.” Side B presents a medley of six songs in which the voice sits over repetitive, propulsive percussion and lilting abstract drumkit figures before giving way to a six-minute spacious improvisatory drum passage.

Whether it's a lone voice or a voice and percussion ensemble, the lyrical, taut, spare style that has defined Morgan’s compositions and arrangements (see the drum and percussion arrangements of Joanna Newsom’s Have One on Me as a primer) shines through. His bold and unflinching spirit shines through, too. “And I don’t care how this sounds to you,” Morgan declares on “Repairing a Wall.” “There is a higher power, and I am made to know something of it today. Pointed to it. Brought to it, in spite of my self and my mind.”

Morgan is perhaps best known as the trusted right-hand man to some of the finest songwriters of his generation, including Bill Callahan, Joanna Newsom, and Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold. Morgan arranged drums and percussion on both Newsom’s Have One on Me and Callahan’s Apocalypse. He has accompanied Newsom in live performance since 2006, and Callahan since 2009, and has often served as the opening act for both artists on tour dates around the world.

Morgan began writing spoken songs after a night in 2011 in Atlanta, when he read two newly written pieces as the opener on Bill Callahan’s Apocalypse tour. “I’ve always been drawn to the performance of public speaking, and to the melody and rhythm of a speaking voice, so it was a revelation to make a song and perform it in that way,” Morgan says. “After that Atlanta show, I didn’t look back.”

Writing and recording the full NEAL MORGAN album consumed the percussionist/songwriter’s life for over a year. “I’d say the songs over and over while riding my bike to the store,” he says. “I’d say them around the house and while tearing out the plumbing in the bathroom or while ripping boards on the table saw. I edited and adjusted songs and found new melodies for certain words and lines while I played pickup soccer games.”

"These songs are about confrontation and looking inward," Morgan says. "On my first two records there was a lot of layering of singing to create dense chords and layering of drums to create ensemble compositions. This record is about reduction; laying it bare."