Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer, The Flower of Muscle Shoals Out now, Free

Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer, The Flower of Muscle ShoalsOut now, Free Dirt Records,

If it sounds funny for a Pacific Northwest-based string player originally from New Mexico to name his first album after a town in Alabama, well, that’s what a little bit of love will do. Not only is this release Morrison’s first with his new band Country Hammer (you likely first heard of him from his roots duo with Eli West, with whom he still plays), it’s his first since he married, and the title track was written for his new wife, who hails from the fabled Southern town. Thankfully, Morrison’s happy heart hasn’t changed the hard-luck ethos one would expect from a band complete with pedal steel and fiddle; there’s still plenty of country noir to go around. “Sorrow Lines the Highway of Regret,” for example, is a honky-tonkin’ barroom stomper in the tradition of Ricky Skaggs or Dwight Yoakam, and the accordion-flecked “San Luis” is surprisingly upbeat for the cryptic elegy it appears to be. There’s even a subtle darkness to the title track—something about “red dirt blood she bled”—but that, Morrison says, is because he enjoys “phrasing things to sound darker and more visceral than they necessarily need to be… like it conveys a deeper, more mystical emotion that way.” Maybe that’s just his way of putting it to make the rest of us sad sacks feel better. Whatever the reason, alongside his dust-filled, twangy vocals and his seasoned country band—including Country Dave Harmonson on pedal steel and Ethan Lawton on drums—it’s an effect put to good use.