The opening sentence of promotional material that accompanies this Morton Valence (re)release states “Black Angel Drifter is an album of unorthodox ’country’ music and unlike anything you’ve heard before”. You won’t be surprised to hear that PR people can be a little prone to hyperbole at times, but in this case, they couldn’t be more accurate. This album is radically different from anything that the average Americana aficionado would normally listen to and some will find it highly discordant, but work with it and you’ll find it’s not – it’s thoroughly gripping! We’ll get back to that a little later but first a little history lesson.
Morton Valence originally released ‘Black Angel Drifter’ in 2016 but not under their own name, preferring instead to simply use the album title as the band name, now fast forward to 2020 and, having signed with UK Country label Cow Pie, they have decided to remaster and re-release it under the Morton Valence moniker. For those that don’t know, Morton Valence is a duo comprising Anne Gilpin and Robert ‘Hacker’ Jessett and while a veritable army of other musicians has contributed to their previous six albums, Alan Cook has been a pretty permanent fixture on steel guitar and he does so again to great effect on this release. History lesson over, now to the music
Attempting to describe ‘Black Angel Drifter’ is well nigh impossible, Yes it’s idiosyncratic, yes it’s dark and yes, it’s somewhat quirky, even odd on first listen. Most of all though it’s simply intriguing, wonderfully intriguing in fact. It takes a while to figure out what you are dealing with but once you do, you may well be hooked. The album opens with the eerily atmospheric ‘Skylines Change/Genders Blur’. To hear it described it as being like the illegitimate lovechild of The Jesus and Mary Chain and Ennio Morricone will give you some idea of the feel – which is hardly surprising as the duo do claim the film soundtracks of Morricone and Lalo Schifrin as influences – as well as the music of The Carpenters, John Prine, Patsy Cline and Merle Haggard. Don’t say you weren’t warned, this is not your usual mainstream Americana record, so be prepared to have your musical boundaries tested!
Highlights among the other tracks on the album are the excellent ‘Black Eyed Susan’ and a unique(!) take on Dylan’s ‘The Man in the Long Black Coat’, while ‘Trail of Tears’ drags you into a hugely disconcerting dark world and doesn’t let go until the last notes fade away. ‘Black Angel Drifter’ is an album that takes the listener right out of their comfort zone and challenges everything you think alt-country will be. This album will polarize opinion with traditionalists turning away on first listen, but others will find this bold exciting and innovative. This is not an album for the casual listener that you can simply listen too while you cook dinner or play in the background while you work at your home office, this is an album that demands your full attention! Morton Valence doesn’t abide by or follow any normal rulebook, they plough their own musical furrow and although it almost certainly hurts them commercially, they stay true to themselves and continue to do their own thing and more power to them.