Blake Morgan - Diamonds in the Dark
When I gave two cuts from Diamonds in the Dark a Sound Cloud pre-listen, Blake Morgan's clean, clear, tuneful singing and arranging skills reminded me of Keane: bright, attractive, enveloping, and innocent, not deceived by the world but wistful for other things. What I hadn't known was that he plays everything except the drums. Impressive. "I can Hear You Say" is probably going to be the chart choice, what with its strong confident vocals, hummability, subtle hooks, and mellifluous nature overall. But I was also struck that he embodies the kind of work Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone, and Russ Ballard were creating in The Zombies and Argent, way back when. Morgan also reminds me of what Emmitt Rhodes (Merry Go Round, Palace Guard, solo) would have done had he made better choices…and Rhodes was slated to be the new McCartney. He never arrived.
If you check Wikipedia, you'll see Emitt was from Hawthorne, California. In fact, he lived three streets over from me (I was on 129th St., he lived on 132nd). I met him once or twice, nice guy, but his solo work, though it was indeed hailed as McCartneyesque and did pretty nicely in the charts and with the critics, was a bit puzzling, sounding unfinished and indecisive. Part of the problem was ABC/Dunhill's ridiculous pressure tactics (he was under contract to issue an LP every 6 months) but the other part was that he never got to the finish line. Blake Morgan not only crossed it, but sat down for champagne with the burghers, danced with the ladies, reminisced with the boys, and then called himself in as a stripped down chamber orchestra. Had Rhodes lavished this much attention on his work, he'd be a benchmark for the period rather than a victim of circumstance.
Hawthorne. That's also mindful of The Beach Boys, and Blake's "Water Water Everywhere" sounds like Brian Wilson with Dean Parks with Mike Scott (Waterboys) with Iain Matthews. His guitar work can be haunting ("Forgetting to Remember") but that ability to readily climb the scales vocally is the centerpiece, from middle-range to falsetto in a melodious flash, then back down again, to sit melancholically in reverie. More than once, you'll find yourself floating away with the music, and the titles hint of sweet romantic quandaries: "Suspicious Bliss", "So Scared and Happy", etc. When he suddenly jumps into belting it out, as in "Suspicious Bliss", it's like the sun breaking out from behind a cloud bank.
This is a CD to settle into with a glass of wine, no distractions, not too loud, not too soft, just enough to shut out the outside world and let the sounds swirl around you. You'll find some brooding, some exhiliration, some memories, some desires, and then a long sigh afterwards. In this day of ridiculous and lethal politics, economics, religion, and other toxic substances, we need more of what Blake Morgan ushers forth…hell, even if it's just to dance and dream to.