By Ellen Eldridge
Listeners will hear Bob Dylan’s influence in the first note of the first song, “Broken Windows,” even before seeing the credit for Bob Dylan’s title and verse in “Swan on the River” later on the album Contenders. Connecting the obvious smoky style inspiration, patterned after greats like Dylan, to the willingness Morton maintains to explore music. The second track, “Que Lastima” translates to mean “what a pity” and though Ken Will Morton started his career in Athens, his open-mindedness to a Spanish-styled country keeps his music original. Blues and southern influences emerge from homespun stories told over the twang from mandolin and harmonica. Songs like “Powder Keg” and “Rough and Tumble” pay homage to the title Contenders in keeping the idea of what could have been coursing through the songs. “Happy Enough” contrasts against its predecessor, “Que Lastima,” and pokes at the irony. The song was loosely based off a movie called Waitress (2007), which showcases an unhappily married, pregnant waitress’ grab for happiness from a relationship with a newcomer to town.
The touted troubadour stripped down his arrangements on Contenders, which gives his songs an honest sense that shouldn’t be labeled or tossed in with other songwriters influenced by similar artists. The piano accompaniment on “Too Soon” exposes his voice and capitalizes on his words. The closing track, “Change,” whines with saddened harmonica and continues through its tribute to the triumph of change as the answer to failure. “We need to change sometimes” simply states the idea of a healing process that does not allow for despair; quite fitting for the close of Morton’s sixth release.
Comparing Morton’s sound to those who came before him may be easy, but Contenders gives the impression of just how well he glues together his varied inspirations. Morton has been recognized as an enthusiastic live performer who played at the Atlantis Music Festival in the past and SXSW. He plays Eddie’s Attic November 13.