Hard times bring out best of Bill Morrissey

March 12, 1992

by Dave Hoekstra

It's hard to pick just one tune that is worth the price of admission at a Bill Morrisseyconcert, but when the Boston singer-songwriter appeared Tuesday night at Schuba's, I'd say the honor went to his 1989 composition, "These Cold Fingers."

It begins with a man struggling to propose marriage over a few beers at a loud airport. It ends with the same man taking a borrowed .22 to his ailing dog. The sentiments are connected by the chorus: "Everything slips through these cold fingers, like trying to hold water, trying to hold sand; close your eyes and make a wish and listen to the singer, one more round, bartender, pour a double if you can."

Whoa. Pass the Kleenex.

On Tuesday Morrissey delivered "These Cold Fingers" with eyes shut and a forgiving voice as deep as a dried-up wishing well. The mood was accented by the subtle violin playing of former Raindog Johnny Cunningham - which is something, considering what a loquacious character the Scotsman is.

Morrissey and his four-piece band played two 45-minute sets, which gave them ample time to explore everything in his four-album catalog. Morrissey has been touring with the group for less than a week, so at times he came off as more of a guy fronting a group of fill-in musicians instead of someone singing within the texture of an ensemble.

But most things worked beautifully. Schuba's is a wonderful place to hear Morrissey, and he drew a standing-room crowd of more than 100 people on a cold Tuesday. I'm afraid the room won't be able to hold Morrissey much longer. He is the best songwriter I have heard since John Prine. We live in hard times, which are good times for tough voices like Morrissey and Prine. People are listening again.

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