A friend of Cashavelly Morrison summed up her new album in two words: “It’s thick.”
Thick with long songs that explore complex lyrical themes. Thick with hypnotic instrumentation and a compelling vision. Thick with echoes of a difficult personal journey documented in the middle of a pandemic.
“I feel like what the album was telling me was how to fully enter yourself outside of all these wounds and conditioning that limit you over time,” Morrison said.
The Winston-Salem singer and her band will celebrate the release of the new album, “Metamorphosis,” Friday night at the Ramkat. They will perform the record in its entirety. I, Anomaly and David Wimbish of the Collection will open the show.
“Metamorphosis” is the third album from Morrison. (Cashavelly Morrison is a stage name derived from the birth names of her grandmothers; her real name is Melissa Bickey MacLeod.) The new record follows “The Kingdom Belongs to a Child” in 2015 and “Hunger” in 2018. Both albums earned critical raves. Huffington Post called the debut album “honest, evocative and intoxicating.” Glide said “Hunger” “paints an ominous portrait of the dark underbelly of American privilege.” Rolling Stone named Morrison one of “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know.”
On “Metamorphosis,” Morrison has drifted away from her earlier, more country-Americana sound and into psychedelic indie-rock.
The shift came in part because of Morrison’s love for War on Drugs, an indie-rock band from Philadelphia. She told her band, “If we want to, we can fully exit Americana.” Guitarist Luke Payne told her that “Americana’s still baked in” to the group’s sound. Morrison’s husband, Ryan MacLeod, also plays guitar in the band.
Evan Bradford co-produced “Metamorphosis” with Morrison. He has worked with Caleb Caudle, American Aquarium, The Avett Brothers and many others. They recorded at Echo Mountain, a studio in a converted Asheville church. Bradford has worked there with Morrison since her debut album, which started out as a session to record demo tapes.
“We definitely hit it off quickly,” Bradford said. “We had really good chemistry.”
They recorded the new album over the course of a week in August 2020, working 12-hour days in the studio with everyone in masks because of the pandemic.
“They’re really awesome people to hang out with,” Bradford said. “The sessions are definitely fun. There are some moments of intensity, just because you want to get it right. Melissa definitely does have a specific kind of vision for what she wants it to be.”
That vision now extends to the big screen. Morrison worked with filmmaker Edward Tavares to make a feature-length movie to accompany the album, inspired in part by Beyonce’s “Lemonade” and “Homecoming” films.
“Beyonce was a huge inspiration for me before this album,” Morrison said. Regarding Beyonce’s performance at the Coachella festival in California, she said, “I had never seen a performer so empowered like that.” The “Metamorphosis” film has been accepted at two film festivals to date.
The songs on “The Kingdom Belongs to a Child” evolved from the pain of a 2010 miscarriage and the 2014 death of her father. “Hunger” was fueled by Morrison’s rage over the mistreatment of women, embodied by the Me Too movement and the election of Donald Trump.
The songs on “Metamorphosis” grew out of a spiritual crisis that led Morrison into an intense period of self-exploration. She wrote about the process: “In 2018, I realized nearly all of my decisions were based on fear. My fears had so severely curtailed the experiences I longed for, my skin began to feel too small for my body.”
She responded by challenging herself. She overcame a fear of going for runs late at night. She worked with a shaman and a group of women, immersing herself in new experiences such as spending nights alone in the wilderness. The process coincided with the pandemic.
“I ripped up all my fantasies for success, burned my bargains and hassling for self-worth, followed my desires blindly to every disappointment and disillusionment until my heart was broken to smithereens,” Morrison wrote. “After a year, my ego finally collapsed in humility.”
She kept a journal through the entire process. Afterward she took what she had written to a cabin in the mountains to sort out the meaning of everything she had been through. That process yielded the songs on “Metamorphosis.” It “felt very magical and spiritual,” Morrison said.
“I’m not done, but I feel like I’m better with my kids than I’ve ever been because I’m so present with them,” she said. “I’m kinder to myself. I was finally just like, ‘Come down off your high horse — you don’t have all the answers, and you don’t have to have all the answers.’”