Album Review: Morris & Rivers take you home to the Mohawk Valley
The opening notes of Home, the new record by local folk duo Morris & Rivers, are inviting in the same way that a cup of hot chocolate and a fireplace are on a cold December evening. Not long into the record, you start to feel as if the performers are also right there in the living room, mere feet from you.
It’s a testament to the artistry that there is little more than meets the eye on Home – no parlor tricks, over-the-top post production, etc. – just three musicians performing in often-times theatrical fashion (see “The Last President of the Smallest Railroad in New York”, for example) on nothing more than a jazzy, cabaret-esque piano, and a subtly percussive upright bass (performed by Dylan Perillo).
The record’s 12 songs are more like stories written for a play; you can almost see actors moving across the stage, addressing their audience in dramatic fashion. This particular play’s acts move through stories of farm life (“Our Summer Farm”), watching one’s children grow up and leave home (“Empty Nester”), and even gentrification (“The Night They Tore the Diner Down”). The latter has a particularly lovely melody delivered by Alice Sorensen, the guest vocalist highlighted on the record’s front cover.
Alice grew up with Justin Rivers in Amsterdam before moving away for some time. When she returned to the area last year, Justin introduced her to his songwriting partner, Lecco Morris, and the idea for Home sprouted from there.
“I was thrilled when they invited me to be the vocalist for this project,” Alice tells me. “I’m a singer/songwriter as well, but [on Home] I was singing original songs written by someone else, which was really new territory for me. The guys had a set of artistic choices to make with the material, and then I got to come in and layer my own on top of that. It was really cool.”
With Home, Justin and Lecco composed a collection of songs about and based in the Mohawk Valley. They did their homework too, partnering with Schenectady County Historical Society to research local stories, folklore and actual historical documents.
“I hope listeners rekindle, or fan the flames, for a love of the Mohawk Valley and its really intimate stories,” Alice says. “Justin is a phenomenal storyteller and Lecco’s sweeping vocal melodies and piano accompaniments really bring the stories to life in such a special way.”
There’s certainly something old-fashioned about a lot of the material, most evident in “When the Sun Rises,” which has the melody and content of an almost Industrial Revolution era song – put another way, it wouldn’t feel out of place in a Coen Brothers movie. The harmonies in the chorus are absolutely glorious, and if there’s one gripe I have with the record, it’s that there aren’t more moments like this to get lost in.
At its core, Home is its own kind of folklore – calm down, Swifties, that’s not what I meant – a musical retelling of histories and anecdotes based right here in the Capital region. I’d suggest enjoying it with a cup of tea while watching the leaves change.
Morris & Rivers’ new record is out tomorrow, October 13th, on all major streaming services. Pre-save it HERE.