If I lived in Brazil, would you come visit me?” asks Morgan Christopher Geer (aka Drunken Prayer) on “Brazil,” the opening track from his new album, Into the Missionfield. First this bit of news: You don’t have to. While Geer has been based in Oregon in recent years, making annual trips back east to Asheville and Western N.C., (where he launched his music career as a blues singer in the Warren Wilson College dorms), he is — with the release of Missionfield — officially back in Asheville.
Also good news: Missionfield rocks with a gritty conviction matched by crisp production and interesting arrangements. If Geer’s long-term fans have heard some of these songs before (“Ain’t No Grave” and “Take A Walk”), they’re remade on this album, all but discarding Geer’s previous lo-fi unplugged folk-noir for the growl of electric guitars and the tart smack and flash of the kind of kit drumming that involves drum stick acrobatics.
While Geer’s style is informed by a straight forward, on-the-beat Johnny Cash school of country blues, he adds edge and snarl in unexpected places. “Always Sad” pairs Geer’s rich and sturdy vocal with a sweet, soft female voice. “MaryJane” is all roadhouse swagger and ambling two-step recalling the organ rock of the Grateful Dead and the delicious whine and off-kilter stomp of outlaw country. “You Walk” revisits these themes, throwing in swanky horns parts and lithe, rambling organ.
The album’s title track is its grungiest, weighted with reverb and cymbal flourishes. It’s a story as much as a song, its cinematic aspects drawn out but a richly layered instrumental break that’s equally Beatles and Eagles. Here, Geer struts his prowess as an arranger and composer as much as a musician — though that skill, too, is evident in the range and expression he finds in a voice that initially presents as steadfast if not pliable.
While Geer has always been a talented performer (he’s also fronted ’90s rock outfit The Merle and country grunge act The Unholy Trio), with the varied moods and careful polish of Missionfield, Geer finds his voice and steps easily into the spotlight.