The new album from Minnesota native Sarah Morris, Ordinary Things, is nothing short of a revelation. The songwriting, while always solid if not exceptional, never remakes the wheel. The revelatory aspect of this work comes from Morris herself and the wide-ranging vocal acrobatics investing every song that, fortunately, never fail to infuse the material with her trademark thoughtful sincerity. Exemplary production highlights her powerful instrument and provides equal balance between the top players recruited for the project. Her music stays firmly within a rootsy framework; country is the dominant influence here, but it isn’t the country music of Blake Shelton and Taylor Swift. Instead, Morris takes her cues from alt-country icons like Shawn Colvin and others. Folk and blues influences spill out in various songs as well.
“Brighter”, the album’s first cut, bursts into life with the words “first single” scrawled across it in invisible ink. This is a superb introduction to Morris’ artistic aims, melodically entertaining, and lyrically adept. Morris’ vocal sparkles with inklings of the potential realized on later songs, but for one particular facet of her talent, “Brighter” is a remarkable showcase. “Sway Me” has a bit of sinewy rock and roll spirit absent from many of the album’s entries, but muscular drumming gives it a tremendous amount of drive and Morris draws forth some more of the surprisingly bluesy growl providing an appealing sonic undercurrent. Her blues influences leap to the fore in full with “Nice Girl” and her voice conjures enough raw sensuality to single-handedly power the track. The dynamics on hard-edged song such as this are their second calling card – earlier efforts like “Brighter” belie her talents in this area, but when she let’s them fly, memorable moments ensue. Morris returns to more low-fi territory with an understated, yet complex, lyric for the song “You Still Have Me”. Acoustic guitars are an excellent choice for framing this song in a thoughtful frame. “Used To Be Mine” covers similar thematic territory and bubbles over with catchiness and vocal inventiveness that, in an ideal world, would make this a sure bet for a AOR country hit.
“The Strong One” takes another trip through darker territory while mixing pure country with pop rock leanings that encourages another fantastic vocal from Morris. “Lie Here Tonight” will strike many listeners as yet another sure-footed country track likely to garner considerable attention if it receives any radio play. Vocal hooks are one of Ordinary Things’ abiding strengths and few songs are as melodically strong as this. The album’s final song, “Hope, Sweet Hope” tidily surmises much of what came before while creating its own distinct character as a song. This isn’t merely more of the same; instead, it explores new levels of vocal and instrumental sensitivity in a memorable finale.
by Lance Wright