Mike Morello: He can play this here guitar

By: Nick R. Scalia , Staff Writer

PLAY – Issue 03/29/2006


Singer/songwriter Mike Morello may be a modern guy, but his heart is in an era of music that was over before he was born.

Not that Morello's breezy, acoustic-driven songs wouldn't please those raised on Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews, but for anybody whose musical knowledge reaches back a bit, the early 70s loom large over his songs. And not so much the Springsteens and Dylanses you might imagine, but rather the soulful sounds of artists like Stevie Wonder and jazz-guitar legend George Benson, whose records Morello's mom constantly spun when he was a kid.

"Those artists were allowed to put down on vinyl what they really wanted to put down," says Morello. "A lot of the recordings were pretty much live in the studio and improvised, and that allows for a whole lot of energy and creativity. Audience members, even if it's subconsciously, can tell when music is fake." Tapping into that spirit, the East Haven-based vocalist and guitarist has spent the last few years writing, recording, and endlessly playing live both in-state and beyond, making himself a fixture on local singer/songwriter bills and at open-mic venues. Morello's first album, Leisure, came out last summer, and new songs pop up on his website (www.mikemorello.net) at a fairly regular clip.

He admits, though, that it took more than a decade to realize that music was something he really wanted to do - "I played guitar for a long time, probably about 15 years or so, but I never really thought about songwriting." He composed his first song, Blank, on a whim while living in London a few years back; while that one was good enough to eventually make the cut for his album, though, his earliest work was mostly of the trial-and-error variety. "I wrote about 10 songs that honestly I would probably never play live now, and it allowed me to get all that crap out of my system, kind of," he says. But soon, "I broke into this little period when I wrote three or four songs where I said to myself, 'If I heard these on the radio, I would maybe go out and buy these.'"

Morello says audiences were very receptive when he tested those tunes in the live setting, and that was the final push he needed. Locally-based producer Joe Carrano gave him the opportunity to cut a demo EP, but the project ended up snowballing into the fully fledged Leisure album. Its songs weave rich, R&B-esque vocal melodies with warm acoustic strumming and lively, percolating rhythms. Sprightlier and less soporific than the average sensitive-guy-with-an-acoustic-guitar routine, Morello's compositions have an easy groove and a buoyant, summer-afternoon kind of feel - the kind that's more likely found on the oldies station than anywhere else nowadays.

That upbeat quality carries over into the lyrics, too. "My music is almost always positive," Morello says. "I have very little negative music because that wouldn't match my demeanor onstage - I'm not trying to make it a downer, I'm trying to entertain people."

Even his troubled relationship songs, a staple of the genre, are infused with a sardonic sense of humor - as displayed on the catchy chorus of Wound Up, on which he grudgingly confesses, "You dumb up my life / It's just the way we're wound up." Despite his songs' easygoing charm, though, Morello prides himself on delivering intense live performances rather than just sitting and playing. "I want to be exhausted by the end of a show. If I'm not totally soaking wet, sweating, and wanting to collapse by the end of the set then I didn't do my job." He's even working on developing a full-band live act featuring some of the musicians that played on Leisure - though he'll be going it alone for his show this week at The Space.

And actually, Morello says being a solo singer/songwriter is what suits him best, especially since in the currnet musical landscape, the alternately celebrated and maligned one-man acoustic guitar act is perhaps more respectable - and profitable - than ever. "I think the singer/songwriters recently have really made a nice push into pop," he says. "If you did this 10 years ago - pre-John Mayer, pre-Jack Johnson - you would have been lumped in with the singing troubadours, playing restaurants and happy hours."

As listeners have grown more receptive to the style, he believes, the music itself has stepped up, too - with artists needing a much tighter sense of musicianship and a more diverse set of musical influences to stand out (hell, even John Mayer is playing with a blues band these days). That works particularly well for Morello, because he came into the singer/songwriter world from a much more jazz- and R&B-oriented background. His more recent song Next To You shows definite stylistic growth, almost a full-on romantic slow jam with a soft electronic beat and lyrics that wouldn't be out of place on a Teddy Pendergrass disc.

"I really fell in love with that sound, it's sort of a recent thing," Morello explains. "And once I started experimenting with it, I really embraced it - it felt natural with me."

So, those checking out his live show can expect some combination of old-school soul and jazz with a little recent R&B, all layered on top of a traditional singer/songwriter guitarist sound and shot through with a 70s-era songwriting sensibility.

Maybe Morello himself's got a better way of describing it - "As long as it all sounds like Mike Morello at the end, I'm cool with it."

Hear It Live

Mike Morello

w/ Echoing August, Sucka Brown and Honeycreeper

Friday, March 31

7 p.m., $10
The Space

Treadwell St., Hamden

For future dates or to sample Mike Morello's songs, visit www.mikemorello.net.



Big year for musician Mike Morello

with second album, first tour coming


By KENNETH HOFFMAN                            Startford Star – MARCH 30, 2006


Local songwriter and musician Mike Morello is moving fast.  His second album and first tour are due this summer, and he’s hoping they will propel him to the big leagues.

Café crowds may already recognize his distinctive sound.  He plays regularly at the Huntington Street Café in Shelton and the Acoustic Café in Bridgeport, but he has appeared in many venues around the state.

A Stratford native, Morello wrote his first song with a friend in London in 2001 and said, “I haven’t stopped writing since.”

He cites jazz and blues greats such as George Benson and B. B. King as influences, as well as rock legends Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eddie Vedder.

“I’m really trying to open myself up, challenge myself,” Morello said about his next album, tentatively titles “Up to Something.”

“Either I embrace all the different styles that have influenced me or I ignore them and just work on my sound.  I combined the two options,” he said.

He got into R & B, some jazz, and loosened up for some acoustic rock tracks.  He said listeners will see three or four different faces on this album, but he is confident that everything has the unique Morello sound.

Morello’s producer, Joe Carrano, owner of Stratford-based Star Pin Publishing, first heard him at Huntington Street Café two years ago. 

“He stood out as exceptional,” Carrano said. “He has a strong hold on song craft and is a great singer.”

Carrano’s goal is to get Morello placed with a major label within a year. “He’s a relentless, tireless worker with his music,” Carrano said.

Morello wants to get signed not for money or fame, he said, “but to get my music heard by as many people as I can.”

The team is trying to get Morello’s songs placed in film and television soundtracks as part of their promotion strategy.  “That placement will give him something to attract major label interest,” Carrano said.

When he’s not making music, Morello teaches high school English at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven.  Before Wilbur Cross, he taught for three years at Bunnell High School in Stratford, his alma mater.

“I love teaching,” he said.  “If I couldn’t do music, I’d be proud to teach for the rest of my life.”

Morello often combines his two loves, using music to teach poetry and writing. “Music is a text also to be studied,” he said.  “Lyrics are poetry.”

Carrano said Morello is admired by the youth in Stratford, “They look up to him; he’s a good influence.”  

Morello gave a lot of credit to his “street team,” a group of fans that help promote his music.  “They are really devoted to me,” Morello said.  “They are a great group of people that have really helped me out.”

He expects the team will be integral to the promotion of the next album in an even bigger way.

Morello and Carrano have been working hard to get the music out for fans to find.  In addition to playing gigs at Daniel Street in Milford, Corner Pocket in Orange, The Space in Hamden and several New York clubs, he is looking to expand to the college scene.

He has played at Sacred Heart and Southern and is looking to do more shows at colleges throughout the state.

Morello’s tour will cover 10 to 12 cities this summer, and he plans to debut many of the songs from the new album.

Carrano has submitted songs to KC101 and WEBE locally.  His first album, “Leisure,” is available on the Napster, Amazon, Borders, and Barnes and Noble websites, to name just a few.

For more information about Morello and his music, visit his website at mikemorello.net.

Carano’s website at carranomusic.com, has information about Morello and his other producing projects.