I am never quite sure when and how musical simplicity transmutes into timeless musical power. It is certainly true that most simple songs are neither timeless nor powerful and likewise true that many powerful songs are not especially simple. But Cashavelly Morrison’s graceful and commanding “Long-Haired Mare” not only serves as evidence of the eternal potential of folk-like music but functions as an aural balm for any ears that might be feeling overstuffed with 21st-century musical commotion just about now.
The particular beauty I hear in this song is grounded in the acoustic guitar, in particular the supple notes slipped in after the first four iterations of the traditional strumming pattern on which the song is based. At once fluid and discrete, this understated motif (first heard in the introduction starting at 0:11), recurs throughout the song, between verses, and each time it comes around it sounds like a would-be confidant, a repeatedly viewed stranger with kind eyes, and if it is partial illusion to sense that the song’s poised unfolding and subtle accumulation of textures (heartbreaking drums, outcast steel guitar) is built entirely on the foundation of this humble motif, it is also partial non-illusion. The ear knows what it knows. Add to the aural amalgam Morrison’s country-air voice and instinctive, subtly syncopated phrasing and from humble roots—gothic tale, guitars, percussion—I sense a growing majesty and am myself humbled before it.
And the payoff for waiting patiently for each return of the sad and deft guitar motif? A full-fledged guitar solo, beginning at 3:26, as gripping as a resolutely self-effacing acoustic solo can possibly be.
Cashavelly Morrison is both the stage name taken on by the singer/songwriter Melissa MacLeod and the name of the musical project co-created and -peformed with her husband Ryan MacLeod; he is the masterly guitarist we’ve been hearing here. Cashavelly and Morrison are family names from Melissa’s side, lost in marriage. “Long-Haired Mare” is from the debut Cashavelly Morrison album, The Kingdom Belongs to a Child, self-released at the end of October. You can listen to the album via SoundCloud, and buy the album at the CM web site.