January 7, 1999
by Scott Alarik
Local songwriting star and novelist Bill Morrissey never made it a secret that his greatest musical influence was legendary bluesman Mississippi John Hurt (1892-1966). On Feb. 2, Philo Records releases Morrissey's CD tribute "Songs of Mississippi John Hurt." It promises to be one of the best and most talked-about folk CDs of the year, a quiet masterpiece evoking all of Hurt's alluring hardscrabble tenderness.
Morrissey's guitar style comes right from Hurt's soft, circular finger patterns. But the keenly etched lyrics and easy melodic lilt that make his ballads so memorable are also deeply informed by the late bluesman's style.
"He was more of a songster than the kind of harsh, delta-style blues of Robert Johnson or Skip James, " Morrissey said from his Brookline home, where he is finishing the final draft of his second novel, "Imaginary Runner." "It wasn't the real haunted blues; it was more wry. You can almost see him winking when he sings certain lines. There was an angelic charisma, this gentle sweetness to him, that I just always found riveting."