“California Son” finds Morrissey stretching his style range

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In less than a week, former Smiths lead singer, Morrissey will be 60 years old. He has had a place in the hearts of fans since 1982, when his tenor that ranges from plaintive to growling, first gave life to songs by The Smiths.

But The Smiths broke up in 1987. Since then, Morrissey has continued to release solo albums. And now, more than 20 years after his first album as a solo artist, Morrissey presents “California Son” an album of cover songs.

But these are no ordinary covers. And for people familiar with Morrissey, that should come as no surprise. “California Son” is scheduled for release May 24, 2019. Morrissey’s first single from the album was “It’s Over,” originally done by Roy Orbison.

According Billboard.com, Roy Orbison Jr., the late singer’s son, “We love Morrissey! Morrissey’s hair, and melancholy and poetic lyrics always reminded me of my dad. His version of “It’s Over” is great.”

Morrissey and his love of deep cuts

“California Son” is not a collection of easily recognizable tunes. Instead, it is a recording of deep cuts, those less well-known songs that didn’t make it to the radio or other mass media. The artists are well-known, and that shows audiences who Morrissey is inspired by.

Morrissey also collaborates with popular musicians that seem to have little in common with the alternative singer. On “California Son,” Morrissey teams up with Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, Ariel Engle of Broken Social Scene, Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear, and Sameer Gadhia of Young the Giant, Petra Haden and Lydia Night of The Regrettes.

In his way, with his collaborators and the material he has chosen, Morrissey demonstrates his knack for saluting music (or television and films) of the past, while creating arguably cutting-edge music in the present.

And maybe not everyone would agree that an album of covers is cutting-edge. But certainly Morrissey’s approach is. He takes on songs by a range of artists, including The Fifth Dimension, Dionne Warwick, Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs and Buffy St. Marie, among others.

On Monday night, Morrissey performed his version of “Morning Starship” (originally done by Jobriath) on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.” The guitar work and Morrissey’s plaintive vocals were standout aspects of the song, and more than likely made longtime fans excited for the forthcoming album.

Despite some of Morrissey’s mishaps with the media in the past couple of years, “California Son” reveals the singer’s penchant for unapologetically embracing that which inspires him. And while the singles from “California Son” are good, the recording does make fans of Morrissey curious about what he will do for his next album of original work.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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