Be careful, and you might think that Morgan Christopher Geer’s band, Drunken Prayer, is simply weighed down by alcohol. That name would give you that impression. On listening to the new album, Into the Missionfield, you realize that Geer’s also weighed down by dissipation and the anxieties of life. It’s AltCountry core with plenty of bluesy vibes, feelings, and themes. With spiritual touches throw in throughout, though, it seems that Geer takes the name seriously and might just be calling out to a higher power for relief from these blues.
That spiritual moment comes front and center when Geer covers the traditional “Ain’t No Grave” in one of the best versions I have heard in a long time. It’s a blues stomp with punk-like intensity—pounding drums, organ wash, big riff guitars. There’s almost a soul dance feel until the bridge which pulls it all back for a Gospel sway. But then the urgent pounding comes back with abandon to close out the track.
Geer shows an incredible range, though, so while “Ain’t No Grave” might be a standout here, it does not necessarily sum what you’ll find on Into the Missionfield. For instance, track 1 is “Brazil.” In trying to describe the song, I jotted down a whole series of comparisons. There’s John Hiatt’s country ramble. It’s partly Todd Snider and Loudon Wainwright III in its wry outlook on life. Meanwhile, Geer sings with a timbre very reminiscent of Randy Newman. He sings, “If I lived in Brazil, would you spend some time with me?” He’s singing about his “baby” and the “good news” that she won’t desert him. It’s the acoustic guitar/folky parts of James Taylor with much, much more of an edge, especially as the folky beginning gives way to the band coming in with its bluesy punch.
Elsewhere, Drunken Prayer settles back into an AltCountry with a light touch—the pop bright “Always Sad” and the New Orleans-flavored “Maryjane.” The 50’s rock “Take a Walk” sees Geer almost slip into a John Wesley Harding voice over the backbeat for the sock hop.
Borrowing from a common sign near the exits from church parking lots, Geer sings “Smile, you’re entering the missionfield” on “The Missionfield.” Yet, this bluesy rumble that slowly grows until it growls isn’t thinking in terms of the church mission of taking the Gospel out into the community. Instead, it’s the dark tale of a man warped by his surroundings and circumstances.
Now you are entering the missionfield.
Daddy was a dog, and your mama was a storm.
And when the rains came, a killer was born.
Now that’s the stuff of the blues, peering into the mind of a murderer’s darkness as he steps out on his own kind of mission.
Drunken Prayer continues the variety with a horn-laden, soul-like country on “Balloons.” The album closes out with the south of the border tune, “Never Tends to Forget”—gentle at times, riff-rock at others.
As you follow the variety, you’ll continue to see that we’re all weighed down in our own ways by dissipation, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life. Geer sings out those blues and leaves just traces of some kind of good news out there beyond the horizon.