“Please indulge me, I’m gonna cross that line,” Cary Morin sings on “Ghost Dog,” a track from his rich solo effort Cradle to the Grave. By that point in the album, seven tracks in, the line between storytelling and an exploration of the mind and reality had long since been crossed.
The combination of Morin’s heady, challenging lyrics and rich finger-picked guitar results in an album that somehow sounds like thinking feels. As the only performer on the album, Morin delivers an intensely personal experience that provokes thoughts almost as often as it deconstructs them.
On “Dawn’s Early Light,” in which Morin, who is a member of the Crow tribe, heavily references the protest at Standing Rock. He repeats the ‘if a tree falls in a forest’ thought experiment with the word ‘treaty’ in place of ‘tree’ and repurposes words from the Star Spangled Banner, both to devastating effect. In urging “no compromise,” Morin slams the United States for suppressing the ideals the nation was built on and repeatedly violating treaties with few repercussions. Yet, he feels an optimism, citing “the support that Native people are receiving for their efforts to protect clean water, not just for Native people but for everybody.”
“Another wonderful thing is the unification of all of the different Nations that have come together in support of that effort,” Morin said.
Morin does much more to explore the mind on tracks like the daydreaming “Laid Back” and his motivation on “Back on the Train.” “Mishawaka” delves into a vision or dream of the singer’s death. All are recorded live in a folk/blues fingerpicking style he calls Native Americana.
“The end result doesn’t really get edited that much,” Morin said. “I record without headphones. I basically sit in a room and play the songs. The recordings hopefully, and I believe they do, sound like my live shows.”
Just about any YouTube recording of his performances suggest this multiple Colorado Blues Challenge Solo Championship is right about that.
Morin also included a cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U” mostly courtesy of YouTube. He based his interpretation on a video of Prince performing his composition in Las Vegas and originally intended it to be released only on the video streaming service before placing it on his album. The Sinead O’Connor version of the track is the most well known, but its synth-heavy production has not aged well.
Much like the Prince video, Morin’s take on the song seems likely to sound as relevant years later. But while Prince delivers anguish and style, Morin goes with a more defeated sadness and simplicity. It’s an impressive achievement for Morin, and even more so a testament to Prince’s songwriting abilities that the power ballad sounds so good stripped down. For insight into Morin’s decision making here, listen below.
The album starts and ends with songs featuring the lyrics “watch over me/ for I’m only a child.” Though the first track, Cradle to the Grave, finds the speaker in significantly more distressed than the closing “Watch Over Me,” the idea of needing a higher power is the theme for both.
“I took that lyric from Cradle to the Grave and I tried a couple of different melodies and guitar lines,” Morin said. “I thought, ‘it’s an interesting take on the same set of lyrics, so why not use them as bookends?’”
It’s a wise choice for an album that spends so much time in Morin’s thoughts. Though he’s reaffirmed his desire to trust others and actively shape his life, it feels authentic that Morin still needs someone watching over him. It’s a believable and relatable place to be after deep thought: a bit more positive and resolute, but still needing the same things as before.
Cary Morin appears on the March 6, 2017, edition of Country Pocket on WUSB. In this clip from the show, he discusses his cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U.”