Zeke And The Wheel

R.B. Morris

Koch Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/01/1999

R.B. Morris is kind of an enigma to me, even after I've listened to his latest release Zeke And The Wheel. Is he a folk musician or a pop songsmith? Is this disc a concept album or a collection of tunes that just seems to work well together?

I don't pretend to have the answers to these questions, even after careful consideraton of Zeke And The Wheel. But what I do know is that this album is quite enjoyable, and is a pleasant surprise to listen to.

One minute, Morris kind of reminds me of Tom Waits, only with a more approachable vocal style, strumming on his guitar. The next minute, the whole band kicks in and puts a more ominous spin on the title track. If it weren't so damned infectious, it might be confusing.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

For every moment that Morris gets introspective with his music, as on "Maybe The Soul," "A Winter's Tale" and "I've Been Waiting," there's a more raucous side to his music on "Distillery," "Long Arm Of The Law" and "Someone Was Listenin'". But unlike some artists who have tried to walk the fence between both styles and failed miserably, Morris is able to capitalize on both styles and use them to his advantage. The end result: an album that pleases everyone.

Make no mistake, Morris doesn't pretend to fit into any neat musical niche that people like myself seem to want to cram him into. I'd be hard-pressed to call his music country, even though one could argue there are tinges of it that occasionally creep into the songs.

What Morris instead appears to be is a musical carnival mirror. It would be easy to assume a song like "You My Love" would be a gentle love song, and you can't help but find yourself drawn to it like a moth to a flame. But Morris instead chooses to go a more pop/rock-based route to exploit the power a song like this can have. Thing is, he does it flawlessly. Likewise, Morris chooses to speak - not sing - his vocal line on "Call Me Zeke" - and it sounds so natural, that in the end you wonder why you ever had any doubts about such a concept working.

Maybe what Zeke And The Wheel is supposed to be is a disc that reminds listeners that there is more to music than just dining on one particular flavor. Maybe it's that Morris sees his job in life as the spice rack that challenges the listener to expand their musical palates. And who knows - it's a concept that just might make some kid want to try a different form of music because Morris helped to whet his or her appetite for it.

Zeke And The Wheel is a complex but engaging release that makes us think "beyond the box" of what a typical CD release should be. In a road where the musical forks go all different ways, Morris dares to say, "Why not take all of them?" Why not, indeed.

Rating: B+

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Koch Records, and is used for informational purposes only.