Review by Peter Karoly
Have you ever seen anything so morbidly fascinating that you couldn’t take your eyes off it? A car accident, a train wreck, your relatives at Christmas? There are some visual feasts that simply whet your appetite instead of satisfying it. That goes for music as well. There are some things that are just so wrong they are right. For example, legendary rock critic Lester Bangs once listed Ike Turner as one of the 10 greatest guitarists of all time. Lester's rationale was that no one could be that bad unless it was on purpose; therefore Ike must be a genius. I wouldn't go that far, but I understand what Lester was talking about. I understand because I have been listening to a self-titled album by Flint-based band Morseville Bridge and, while it may be a stretch to call it a work of genius, I think somebody is being dumb like a fox here.
Named for an abandoned span that crosses the Burt River, Morseville Bridge's lineup includes Ryan Gregory on guitar, Mark Gregorio on bass, and Thomas Hartwell on drums. Now, I don't consider myself to be a harsh critic like Simon what's-his-name, but I am sure my face must have had a similar expression upon first hearing these guys. They reminded me of the Shaggs, which is not necessarily a good thing to be reminded of unless you have a high threshold of pain. They are, however, morbidly fascinating, like that train wreck and my brother-in-law Terry. They are an acquired taste and, once you have acquired it, you want more.
Morseville Bridge is like that. The band members don't always, or sometimes often, hit all the correct notes either musically or vocally but they hit all the right ones. A song does not necessarily maintain the same rhythm or meter throughout and the harmonies do not always harmonize. Either in spite of that or because of it, things seem to work. Band members at times appear to all be playing solos from different songs, but the same could probably be said at times of the Who. Morseville Bridge isn't the Who by any means, but they aren't the Shaggs, either. What they are is very interesting, and I can't help listen to this album without smiling.
There are some songs that you realize, five seconds into hearing the opening, you will not like. They are the ones we used to spin the dials off the radio trying to avoid. Kids don't really listen to music radio anymore, so they may not know what that means, but I almost sprain my wrist every time "Cat's in the Cradle" or "Feelings" comes over the airwaves. The songs on this album, however, do the opposite. There is something that strikes you as not being quite right, but it compels rather than repels. The chords are crazy, the lyrics sometimes silly, and the vocals as meshed as they can manage. I am no musician or audio specialist, so I can't explain it, but it still all comes together in this wonderful mess that is very appealing.
The song titles are interesting as well. "The House Moves," "Pale Skin" and "Back in the Dirt" are intriguing, as are "Navigate by Candlelight" and "Curiosity Kills." My favorite is the opening cut, titled "Forgive Us." That is not possible because there is nothing here to forgive. This trio may have done things that were wrong, but it all came out right in the end and that is what counts. There is an exuberant feeling behind all these songs and, after all, that is what music is all about. It's about how it makes us feel and I feel good, I feel entertained, and I feel like there is something going on here that will remain interesting for a long, long time. I recommend giving this one a listen, at least once casually and then once in depth. It may not be perfect, but no one can play like this unless it's on purpose, of that I am sure. I am also sure that Lester Bangs would understand.
You can find out more about Morseville Bridge through MySpace if you are so inclined, and you might want to take in a live performance on January 8, 2010 at White's Bar, 2609 State St., Saginaw. This show for ages 18 and older starts at 10pm; cover $4.
© Peter Karoly, 2009