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FARMINGTON — While Cary Morin’s childhood growing up outside Great Falls, Mont., wasn’t exactly difficult, his options for keeping himself amused were extremely limited.

“In those days, in the mid to late '70s, we didn’t have any technology to speak of,” he said. “We lived outside of town, so we didn’t even have cable TV. I wound up playing a lot of guitar.”

Fortunately for Morin, his parents were very social people who liked to have large groups of friends and neighbors over for regular gatherings. Whenever that happened, Morin said, it wasn’t long before the guitars and the songbooks came out, and his parents’ house was filled with music.

“I grew up witnessing that as a normal thing,” Morin said by telephone last week from his home in Fort Collins, Colo., where he was preparing for a show Thursday, Dec. 3 at Crash Music in Aztec. “I don’t know that a lot of people have that sort of upbringing. But my kids do. In fact, when we all got together for Thanksgiving, the guitars came out, and everybody sat around singing songs. It’s funny that, after all these years, that’s still fully a part of my existence. It’s what makes life fun.”

Morin may be a lifelong professional musician, but that doesn’t stop him from continuing to take pleasure in music’s power to serve as a social lubricant. And unlike a lot of his peers who have spent a lifetime moving from town to town, he still enjoys hitting the road to perform, especially when he’s accompanied by his wife Celeste and their dog Zeus in their RV.

“I’ve talked to other musicians who don’t care for touring,” Morin said. “But I’ve always enjoyed it quite a lot. We’ll go to a lot of places in the U.S. in the winter, then spend our summer at festivals in Europe.”

Morin has always enjoyed the troubadour lifestyle, especially when he was young and was playing in cover bands. It was those experiences that contributed directly to him developing his unique, finger-style approach to blues guitar.

“Traveling with a band had a huge influence on my style,” Morin said, explaining that rather than trying to reproduce the material of other artists as faithfully as possible, he took a different approach.

“I ended up taking other people’s music and trying to make it unique and hard to recognize,” he said.

Morin also took every other opportunity he could to learn from other musicians, absorbing their musical influences, studying their techniques and watching how they handled themselves on stage.

“I owe an awful lot to all those musicians I bumped into over the years — and I still continue to do that,” he said.

That’s the approach Morin has always taken to music. Whether it was the material he heard at those living room jam sessions he experienced at his parents’ house or the records his older siblings were listening to or the songs he learned from other players when he was out on the road, Morin has absorbed a wide variety of influences and incorporated it into his sound.

“It was an eclectic blend of recordings, ranging anywhere from bluegrass and classic country to really cool jazz to progressive rock music,” he said of the material that he soaked up over the years. “The last band I played in before I left Montana, we played folk, rock, country, bluegrass. And everybody sang, so we did all these four-part harmonies. I just grew up thinking, ‘This is how it’s done.’ So I’m really thankful I had that upbringing and that my parents supported every artistic endeavor I ever tried.”

Morin said he and his father, an Air Force officer, found a lot of common ground over music. His dad was never a professional musician, Morin said, but he had a wonderful voice and was loathe to miss his son’s shows, even when Morin relocated to Fort Collins from Montana in 1982.

All that may explain why Morin seems to take an old school approach to so much of what he does. That’s not to say he doesn’t hesitate to embrace technology when it aids the creative process — “I can’t even say how much of an impact Steven Jobs has had on my life, from recording audio, to shooting and editing video, to word processing,” Morin said — but he also favors using a simple approach to some essential aspects of his art.

Take songwriting, for instance. Morin spends so much time on the road, he said he had adopted the habit of reciting ideas or lyrics into his iPhone because it was something he could do while driving. But over time, he came to feel as if he had lost his connection to the creative process, and now he’s gone back to the old pen-and-paper routine he used before the digital age.

“I find myself being way more creative that way,” he said. “It keeps my mind stimulated.”

And while Morin takes advantage of the latest technological advancements in studio equipment, his approach to recording is decidedly straightforward. When he goes into the studio, his producer sets up five mics around him while Morin sits down with just his guitar and performs his songs live — no tracking, no overdubs, just a genuinely organic, no-frills approach.

“I’ve been doing that for four years now,” he said. “My thought after doing that first one (“Streamline”) and “Tiny Town” (his most recent disc) is I want to do one more in that same style. I think it’s a really honest way to record. What you hear on that record is what actually happened. It’s not edited, and there’s nothing added.”

Morin said that approach is very important to him at this stage of his career, even if he’s a little mystified about why.

“I couldn’t tell you why I feel so strongly about it,” he said, though he went on to explain that it’s likely an approach he learned when he recorded his first solo album many years ago. Morin flew to North Carolina to record with producer Tim Duffy and was astounded when Duffy put him in a room with a percussionist and two microphones and said, “Here we go.”

“It blew my mind,” Morin said, laughing. “I asked, ‘When do we start doing the other tracks?’ He said, ‘It’s done.’”

Morin said he owes a huge debt to Duffy for helping him come around to the idea that sometimes it’s best just to trust yourself and your music without all that window dressing.

“It’s like a snippet in time,” he said. “I hope people recognize that when they listen to the recordings.”

Morin spends most of his time performing as a solo artist these days, but he also takes part in several group projects – a groove band called the Atoll, the blues band the Pura Fé Trio and a side project with John Magnie and Steve Amedée of the Subdudes called the Young Ancients. Over the winter, Morin plans to finish his next solo album and record a new disc with one of his groups.

“It seems like whenever I’m in Fort Collins, there’s no shortage of work to be done, studio wise,” he said.

His level of comfort with Magnie and Amedee allows for a good amount of improvisation between the three of them, but Morin said that’s something he usually only tries on his own. Keeping his music fresh is as important to him as keeping it honest.
“I like to experiment with things,” he said. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but anything goes. It’s amusing.”

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

If you go

What: Cary Morin concert

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3

Where: Crash Music at the Aztec Theater, 104 N. Main Ave. in Aztec

Tickets: $15 in advance or at the door

For more information: Call 505-427-6748 or visit crashmusic.com

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