George Morgan is a dynamic and diverse composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist from St. John’s, who if you’re unfamiliar with, is something akin to this city’s own David Byrne.
He’s released a collection of piano and violin classical compositions (Knockturns), an album of circus music (Wonderbolt), and two singer-songwriter albums under the pseudonym Arthur Capelin (Another Planet, Cock of the Walk). He’s been a member of the Sound Symposium, and dozens of bands over the years, including traditional Newfoundland favourites Figgy Duff, and The Punters. Add professional stone mason to the list, and you start to get an appreciation for the eclecticism found on George Morgan’s newest album, Not Set In Stone.
The backstory to Not Set In Stone is an interesting one. Morgan spent nearly three decades in the music industry, before switching professional gears in his late forties. The grind of 200+ gigs a year, young children, and everything in between that comes with being beholden to a paycheque as a creative musician, all influenced his decision to depart the scene and enrol in trade school.
After 8 years of downtown masonry work, Morgan has returned with a new album, and musical alumni in tow, including the likes of Sandy Morris and Pamela Morgan. Most notably, he’s returned with his love of making music replenished.
Given the eclecticism of his previous projects, it’s no surprise Morgan’s newest offering is just as creatively ambitious and offbeat. Sonically, Not Set In Stone is all over the place, upside down and sideways, but it’s in the best way possible. It’s the sound of someone having a great deal of fun making music again. The spirit of the songs, and the songs themselves, are totally infectious.
Not Set in Stone is confessional, unabashedly romantic, bristly, and wickedly funny. It’s like a musical Surprise Bag. The overall attitude immediately reminded me of Lou Reed’s later Sire years. Reed, who always did whatever he wanted, seemed to have a lot more fun doing this once he too hit his fifties. For example, Not Set in Stone’s third track, Rotten Ronnie, is a riotous anti-capitalist tune that’s easily reminiscent of Reed’s laugh out loud Republican take-down, Sex With Your Parents (Mother*****r).
Morgan never stays in one place for long though: two tracks later, and he’s setting the classic children’s poem The Owl and the Pussycat to music on 7 Billion People. It’s a sweet and vulnerable ballad that recalls one of the most beloved songs of my childhood, Rainbow Connection by none other than the Muppets.
Then there’s the revisited Cock of the Walk; a tightened up braggadocio number that first appeared as the title track on his 2001 album. Whether Morgan’s celebrating his motorcycle on the rock and roll jam, Full Tank of Gas, singing poppy refrains on Negative Love, or meditating on his parallel life on Road Not Taken/Gypsy, Morgan’s thoroughly enjoying making music again. He’s a creative non-conformist, which might not make Not Set In Stone everyone’s cup of tea. But if the prospect of a musical maestro making whatever they want on their own terms appeals to you, Not Set In Stone contains 10 songs that will get under your skin in a totally cumulative way.