September 23, 2020

Morrissey versatile musician> Singer-songwriter adds novel to repertoire

For Bill Morrissey, a singer-songwriter known for his stark, realistic imagery, writing fiction was a natural next step.

Morrissey’s first novel, “Edson,” was released by Knopf in 1996 and was well-received by critics. “Edson” tells the story of an aging singer-songwriter who sacrifices his career for his ideals and ends up doing odd jobs amid the characters in a small New Hampshire town.

Morrissey, who will play at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at the Left Bank Cafe in Blue Hill, has always written short fiction, which took a back seat to his songwriting.

“I got the idea for `Edson’ and realized that it couldn’t be short fiction or an album,” Morrissey said from his Boston-area home. “I’d done three albums for Philo in a short period of time, so I didn’t need to put out an album again soon. So I dedicated 1 1/2 years to it. Then, the day I finished the novel, I started writing songs again.”

Morrissey, 46, is two-thirds of the way through his next novel, which he hopes to finish by the spring.

Still, Morrissey isn’t ready to hang up his guitar to become a full-time author.

“It will be kind of 50-50,” he said. “I’d like to tour a little less than I do now. I like performing, but not at a hectic pace. Unlike some people, I’m not addicted to the stage, but I do like getting out and around.”

During the past 20-plus years, since getting his start while at Plymouth State College, Morrissey has earned a reputation other artists would envy.

Bob Cannon wrote of Morrissey in Entertainment Weekly, “Put simply, he is the best folk songwriter working today.” Paul Evans added in Rolling Stone, “Bill Morrissey is a true naturalistic storyteller — and one of the best songwriters we have.”

Morrissey enjoys the kind words from critics, but adds, “I am my own worst critic. I know when I’ve failed, and when I did OK. If you take your press too seriously, you get this inflated ideal of yourself. If you get panned, it ruins your whole day.”

Much of the praise Morrissey has received is for the detailed portraits he paints in his songs.

“That’s something I’ve always admired in other people’s writing, so it’s something I’ve tried to incorporate. The visual image stays with the listener a lot longer than something more ephemeral. Also it gives the writer credibility, if you can go into detail without getting too technical.”

Today is a great time for singer-songwriters, even more so than during the golden age of folk in the ’60s, Morrissey said.

“There’s bigger audiences, more venues, more variety,” he said. “The boundary lines musically are a little blurred now, and that’s a healthy thing.”

Morrissey has also found more outlets for his music, thanks to the Americana and adult alternative album radio formats.

“Public radio, where folk singers have gotten the most airplay, didn’t happen until the Johnson administration, after the folk boom,” he said. “Now there’s stations [that play folk artists] all over the country. I go to these small towns, and people come out and know the music now.”

Morrissey, who has come up with some song fragments while writing his next novel, hopes to complete those after he finishes the book, go into the studio this summer and have an album ready for next fall.

Also, he and his wife are contemplating a move from Boston to either New Hampshire, where Morrissey grew up, or Maine, which he visits frequently during the year.

“Maine is one of my favorite places,” he said.

For reservations to the Bill Morrissey show, call the Left Bank Cafe at 374-2201.

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