Keith Morris & the Crooked Numbers – Psychopaths & Sycophants
Charlottesville, Virginia area resident and singer/songwriter Keith Morris has an unfortunately unique vantage point on recent national history. The recent racially motivated unrest centering on his adopted hometown, the election of Donald Trump, and the recent death of Leonard Cohen came together in a confluence of sorts that inspired the writing of Psychopaths & Sycophants’ nine songs with Morris’ accompanying band the Crooked Numbers. They provide able and fleet-footed support for each of the songs empathizing unity of lyric and music instead that never risks a second of self-indulgence. Such topical collections risk posterity dating them, but Morris deftly avoids such potential pitfalls by investing a personal stake in many of these songs and the decision gives the performances and lyrics an universal quality capable of maintaining relevance for years to come. There’s plenty of righteous anger harnessed with this release, but it’s mixed in with an array of other emotions and conveyed with great artfulness.
“The Future” is an audacious song to cover. The lyrical content, certainly not suitable for the meek of heart or children, receives a slightly crazed but singularly on point performance from Morris. He makes only one lyrical change and it’s an interesting one – Cohen asks for crack and anal sex in the original which Morris changes to crack and careless sex. The song loses nothing from the change, it’s just interesting for a longtime Cohen fan. The Crooked Numbers come out of their musical corner with every bit as much of the same vigor we hear in Morris’ vocal and the organ playing is particularly notable. “Thousand Mile Stairs”, like the opener, illustrates the value of good backing vocals to this release, among other strengths. It definitely highlights Morris’ ear for bringing dramatic lyrical content together with understated and immensely artful musical arrangements. His intelligent assault on the Trump presidency and its attendant horrors continues with the title song and here best embodies his method of bringing topical commentary with a strong touch of the personal into play with substantive musical compositions that aren’t merely shallow vehicles for his views. The jazz influences in this performance provide some of the album’s tastiest musical moments so far.
Rock fans will enjoy the impassioned, Strum and Drang guitar workout of the track “67%” and both Morris and the Crooked Numbers’ talent for not relying on standard rock tropes to get over the desired emotion and urgency. Even those aspiring to remain apolitical in such divided times will find it difficult to not be affected by the eloquent denunciation at the heart of “Charlottesville by Name” and its effectiveness is particularly notable for the fact it never has to scream. It strikes a notable contrast with the album’s final major song, its closer “In My Secret Life”. The album’s second Leonard Cohen cover captures the original meditative spirit without ever lapsing into mimicry and the Crooked Numbers provide final testimony of their worth to the album as a whole with this performance. It ends Psychopaths & Sycophants with a meaningful last statement and one that’s resoundingly personal despite its cover status. This is must hear for anyone engaged with music and our world today – it’s thoughtful, challenging, and beautiful in many ways.