While in the merchandise trailer at Falcon Ridge on Saturday, I got the news - Bill Morrissey had passed away. Such sad news, especially when contrasted with the joyful folk community underway in Hillsdale - many artists mentioned Bill during their sets. It's going to take me a few days to come down from the Falcon Ridge high to start to process Bill's death.
Others have written more and better tributes; you can find some links on a fansite as well as a short blurb on Bill's site. I've been a fan for over two decades; having heard Handsome Molly on a Legacy compilation. After listening for many years, I got to see him play live, and was surprised at such a deep voice coming from such a slight man. I own a handful of Bill's albums (North, Standing Eight, Inside, Night Train, You'll Never Get to Heaven), and have always been struck by his portrayal of working class New England, and his bittersweet songs about relationships. But I have to say that Friend of Mine, a collaboration with Greg Brown, remains a favorite. Just two good friends, sitting around with a couple of guitars and trading licks, verses, and laughs.
As I unwound from the folk fest, I put five of Bill's CDs that I own into the CD player. The very first notes of Pantherville brought me back to the early 90's - I covered that tune at open mics for a while. Married Man is both hopeful and tickles the funny bone. Handsome Molly, the first song to draw me in; think that's Suzanne Vega on backing vocals. These Cold Fingers - a darker song foretelling perhaps some of his personal struggles. Off-White is another beautiful relationship song, kind of reminds me of David Mallett's "I've Been Around."
Night Train features Birches, one of my favorite songs about relationship - the metaphors and imagery are so beautiful. And on that album, the sad (right now) Letter from Heaven and Time To Go Home
All in all it's amazing how little the quality and tone of his songs changed from the earlier CDs to the later ones. he got a little darker, a little more serious, but one could drop a random song from the earlier days into the later albums and it would not be that out of place.
This year, Falcon Ridge featured a tribute to Jack Hardy who also passed away this year. Folk music has lost a couple of good ones. So it was so sweet to rub elbows with and lend my ears to those still with us - John Gorka, Greg Brown, Eliza Gilkyson, Lucy Kaplansky, Mary Gauthier, so many more.....