The title of Gurf Morlix's first album of new material in four years, "Finds the Present Tense," possesses the kind of duality that songwriters like Morlix seem to gravitate toward. Although it could be interpreted as Morlix discovering himself in the current moment, the cover shot of him, head down on a table in front of an archaic weapon consisting of a bundle of dynamite and an alarm clock detonator, would indicate an interpretation closer to Morlix finding that current moment fraught with anxiety and despair. The songs on "Finds the Present Tense" would seem to support the latter view.
In his songwriter/performer role, Morlix has tended to favor a style similar to his longtime musical partner Lucinda Williams as well as fellow tunesmiths like James McMurtry, Bruce Cockburn and Warren Zevon, artists who deal in atmospherics and well told stories. So it is again on "Present Tense," where Morlix weaves a story arc of desperation (My Life's Been Taken), love gone wrong (You Walk Away, These Are My Blues) and contemporary uneasiness (the Zevonesque title track), and even unravels our pervasive gun culture on Bang Bang Bang, drawing a line from '50s movie matinee shoot-em-ups to today's conceal-and-carry mentality.
As usual, Morlix's raspy voice and dusty melodicism lend a palpable sense of the emotions that he's invested in each song. There are a few flat spots on "Present Tense" - the hitched delivery of Small Window, the well worn metaphor of the John Prine-like Gasoline - making it slightly less triumphant than its predecessor, 2009's brilliant "Last Exit to Happyland", but minor quibbles aside, "Finds the Present Tense" is classic Gurf Morlix, and that can never go too far wrong.