Album Review: Drunken Prayer’s Into the Missionfield

Drunken Prayer

Into the Missionfield

Fluff and Gravy Records

Release Date: February 7, 2012

 

Track Listing

  1. Brazil
  2. Ain’t No Grave
  3. Always Sad
  4. Maryjane
  5. Take a Walk
  6. I Saw It With My Own Two Eyes
  7. The Missionfield
  8. You Walk
  9. Balloons
  10. Beachcomber
  11. Never Tends to Forget

 

Once a member of Asheville, NC’s the Unholy Trio, and now performing under the moniker Drunken Prayer, Morgan Christopher Geer was born to a New Orleans folk singer and a California mushroom farmer. In a rather strange turn of events, sometime in 2006 Geer found himself having a conversation with the legendary Tom Waits about life and art at a fish market in Sebastopol, CA. Geer’s conversation with Waits inspired Geer to write and record what may be his most unabashedly honest and sincerest work to date.

  Some of Drunken Prayer’s earliest compositions were written while Geer was wood-shedding on a farm in Sonoma County, CA before he relocated to Portland, and naturally those compositions were written as solo material – or to be lightly accompanied with drums and guitar. Although during live performances, Geer has been backed by musicians who have played with Beck, the Breeders, She & Him, Eels, Reigning Sound, Eliot Smith, and one of my personal favorites, John Lee Hooker. But before I continue, I suspect that if you’re an overly “jaded” listener or critic that I may know what you’re thinking right now, and I say that because as much as I hate to admit it, I have my moments where my mind strays to this kind of thinking myself. At this point you’re thinking: “Yeah, yet another singer/songwriter who claims Tom Waits as an influence so what makes this guy different. And more importantly, why should I care?”  

   Certainly upon an initial listen Geer both fairly and unfairly will and probably has been compared to his hero as both play the role of the sort of drunk that I’ve encountered a number of times at many of my old haunts – the lonely, wizened drunk (and in our songwriters case, troubadour) who has lived a lifetime or three within the repetitive cycle of sin, regret and redemption. Usually, they’re the quietest guy in the entire bar, but when they have something to say they manage to have bittersweet observations that frequently manage to be witty, funny and strangely true. And that may be where the similarities seem to end for me. Whereas Waits delivers his lyrics with a raspy, old man growl, Geer’s vocals are more of a bluesy, boozy carnival barker.

  After repeated listens, it seemed apparent to me that Geer shares similarities to Randy Newman – his lyrics just like Newman’s manage to show a sharp, playfully satirical wit which lies just beneath the surface of even some of the sadder songs on the album. “Balloons,” is probably the best example of that wit, as Geer describes this dream of heaven, a heaven with “Kelly green hills” that looked “like a children’s cartoon,” where God hands departed souls the balloons they lost in their lives. To me, it depicts the universe we inhabit as being childishly capricious and inconsistent and in a way that will make you laugh (and cry a bit) over the cruelties, ironies and ridiculousness of life. But Geer’s rendition of “Ain’t No Grave” is by far my favorite – he transforms a song essentially about the triumph of eternal life over death into an earthy, defiantly rousing protest. One critic described Drunken Prayer as the sort of band that you’d want to have booked for your own funeral, and I think they were right. I can’t think of any contemporary artist that’s able to write material that encapsulates life in its entirety. It’s simply an exceptional effort by a uniquely talented artist who will probably tell you “folks, you might as well go out laughing a bit.”