Travis Morrison is one funky white boy. In the ’90s and earlier this decade, fronting the Dismemberment Plan, he made some of the funkiest post-punk music since the Talking Heads crossed paths with Bernie Worrell. And anyone who had ever been to one of their performances, which were as fun as rock shows can possibly get, surely would have witnessed his moves, as he got down during tracks like “Ice of Boston” or “A Life of Possibilities.” With his first solo outing, Travistan, he even brought that funkiness out even further, leaving his post-hardcore background aside in favor of a schizo pop record that was something more like Death Cab for Cutie mixed with Prince. Though that album is much better than most of my peers care to remember, the one thing it seemed to be lacking was a really solid set of musicians to back Morrison’s quirky songwriting.
With second album All Y’all, that problem has been rectified. Credited to Travis Morrison Hellfighters, this is the work of a full band. Bassist Brandon Kalber, drummer Saadat Awan and percussionist David Brown have been brought aboard to lend a deeper groove to Morrison’s new set of songs, which find him sounding both invigorated and extremely at ease. That All Y’all feels so natural, and natural for Morrison still occasionally means weird and spastic, makes it such a satisfying listen.
“I’m Not Supposed To Like You (But)” is a solid opener, the Hellfighters’ punchy low-end grooves laying a foundation for Morrison’s witty meditations on origins of arousal: “If I had a slice of apple pie/ my fork would never make my knife explain it why.” On “As We Proceed,” Morrison & Co. revert to an edgy post-punk sound reminiscent of The Plan’s off-kilter rock, albeit with a bit more radio friendly flair. With a heavy-footed, plodding rhythm, “Catch Up” provides an entertaining, synth-powered highlight, which grabs the listener’s attention immediately with its opening lines, “all night, my neighbor’s having sex.”
The throbbing keyboard bassline in “I Do” is chased by an ascending guitar riff, leaving a delightfully off balance feel that somehow drives the song, just barely keeping from tipping over under its own rhythmic game of cat-and-mouse. A bit more straightforward, though still impressive, is “Just Didn’t Turn Me On,” while the spastic time signature bending of “You Make Me Feel Like a Freak” finds Morrison letting loose with sing-songy tales of dating gone wrong and retirement homes in a way that only he can. For those who’ve been waiting for another song with the manic energy of “Girl O’Clock” or “I Love a Magician,” this one comes pretty darned close. Closer “Saturday Night” even ends the album on a powerful and rocking note, driven to perfection with its infectious keyboard hook and distorted bass licks.
There’s not a bad song in the bunch on All Y’all, and with the addition of Morrison’s new teammates, they’ve got the proper rhythmic boost to do them justice. The Hellfighters are an extremely talented band who can hammer out a tight melody with plenty of soul, and really, they have to be to back a man this funky.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.