Scottish-born Hugh Morrison has spent the couple of decades baking in Houston,Texas and playing and singing in a range of styles. As part of The Street Dogs and lead vocalist of Celtic-Rockers Murder The Stout he has toured the world and has released his second solo album of New Orleans influenced Folk-Rock.
After spending twelve years in the USA, the Scottish Highlands born Hugh Morrison returns to his homeland for inspiration on his latest project. His first solo album Robert Burns Rocks came out in 2010 taking his favorite Robert Burns’ work and adapting them for the present time. Burns work has been re-interpreted many times including by many Celtic-Punk bands and this album was designed to bring attention to Scotland’s Bard, opening up his material to a whole new and audience. Hugh Morrison has spent his time in the USA wisely fronting the popular Houston, Texas based Celtic-Punk band Murder The Stout and playing squeezebox in the sadly now no more Street Dogs.
He released his second studio album in 2016 called Prison Ballads ten popular songs all with the theme of Prisons or going to jail! Songs from another age brought back to basics like ‘Banks O’ The Ohio’, ‘Down In The Valley’ and ‘The Auld Triangle’. His new album came out at the turn of the year and has been sitting in our to do list since being played sporadically but thoroughly enjoyed.
The album begins with ‘Passing Place’ and features only Louisiana musicians, mainly the Louisiana legend, Beth Patterson on backing vocals, bazouki and bass. With many friends and guests here its far from yer usual singer/songwriter type of thing. Hugh slightly ached vocals over a catchy acoustic guitar and female background vocals give it a feel of 1980’s UK indie bands. The albums title track is next and ‘The Other Side’ features some choice brass from the New Orleans Second Line Percussion. Be warned this isn’t the upbeat celtic-Rock of Murder The Stout and even with South Louisiana’s Cajun bursting through it’s a sad song about death and Hugh’s vocals and accordion works great here. In the article referenced at the bottom in The Ripple Hugh states that the two following songs are his most favourite ones he has ever written. On ‘Life Can Be Short’, a five minute epic with a definite Irish tinge to it, reminding us to enjoy every moment with the ones around us and ‘Old Scotland’, a ode to his faraway home.
The songs so far have a sadness attached to them that is specific to Celtic music. Death looms large here but without the sentimentalism even when on a song like ‘Old Scotland’ you can tell easily how much the words mean to him. The music is acoustic excepting the bass and while its possible to play really fecking loud with acoustic instruments here Hugh takes another approach with the music almost delicate but still coming out with plenty of fire and bite. ‘Sunshine’ is another folky indie number while ‘Ballad Of Thomas Higgins’ the air of which sounds remarkably like ‘The Patriot Game’ which in itself was stolen from ‘The Merry Month Of May’ and probably several songs pre that one too. Telling of whaling in New Bedford its a great track and shows pretty much all the albums guests in one place. ‘Dance Hall Girl’ is a gentle folky tale while ‘Ticket Out Of Here’ sees the drums pounding just that bit heavier than before with Hugh and Beth combining beautifully on a song whose subject is well known to many of us. I’m a big fan of the harmonica and it gets a good airing on ‘Not Hanging Here’, a catchy melancholic song while on ‘Edge Of The World’ the upbeat modernist Cajun / Country belies the songs serious side.
The albums penultimate song is ‘Kitty’ a sad traditional Irish love song about a Fenian saying goodbye to his sweetheart. Shane MacGowan said he recalled hearing his Mother singing it often which would explain its appearance on Rum, Sodomy & The Lash where The Pogues injected new life into the song. Here Hugh takes the gentle approach with Hugh’s Scots brogue floating over an arrangement similar to The Pogues. The album ends with the upbeat ‘Everything’s Gonna Be OK’ where we get as close to a full band as the album allows. Even the words here are upbeat as Hugh reassures us everything’s gonna be OK.
So a grand album and at this moment in time its the kind of singer/songwriter album with guests we are seeing a lot of but this came out before the ‘clampdown’ so the originality is all Hugh Morrison’s. He proves here what an excellent frontman he is and how adept he is at taking influences and welding them to traditional Scots Folk sentiments and emotions. It may not be in the same league as Murder The Stout but among its peers in Folk music yeah it’s pretty damn bloody good.
(you can stream The Other Side on the Bandcamp player below before you buy)
Keep an eye on these pages for a further Hugh project in Iron Roux. Scottish highlands meet Louisiana swamp as Hugh and Beth Patterson combine forces resulting in driving guitar, subversive bass solos, and tight vocal harmonies. We’re here for the ballads, but will stay for the accordion and bouzouki thrown into the mix too! A EP is slated for release very shortly…
Hugh had a very interesting interview The Ripple that is well worth a look.