By Roy Kasten
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By Chaz Kangas
By Joseph Hess
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By Kelsey McClure
Fans of Springfield, Mo.'s Lou Whitney and Donnie Thompson, and all of their musical projects over the years, have reason to rejoice: The Morells are back. For those too young to remember such '80s artifacts as the mid-decade roots-rock renaissance and oh, say, the Reagan administration, the Morells were at least five years out in front of the former and Lord knows how much smarter than the latter. The Morells -- bassist Whitney and guitarist Thompson, plus drummer Ron "Wrongo" Gremp and keyboardist Maralie (abetted, and eventually replaced, by Joe Terry) -- were known for digging up the most amazing (and the most obscure) tunes, then rocking them as only they could: songs like the Maddox Brothers and Rose's "Ugly and Slouchy" or Joe Liggins' "Go Ahead." On the 1989 reissue of their sole album, 1982's Shake and Push, there is a song, "King of Love," so unheralded that they couldn't even find out who wrote it
The group also had terrific originals, the best-known of which has to be "Reds," a loving tribute to the finest roadside diner Springfield once had to offer ("The only thing French on the menu is fried"). There was also the hangdog ballad "Her Kind of Guy" and the rockin' "Gettin' in Shape," a wry commentary on the then-trendy health-club-as-singles-bar phenomenon.
By the mid-'80s, the Morells were no more, and Whitney and Thompson reconnected with one of their previous projects, the Skeletons, which lasted, off and on, until a few years ago, and memorably backed such singers as Jonathan Richman, Dave Alvin and Syd Straw.
Most recently, the pair formed the wonderfully named Combo.com, and started recording an album. When their drummer quit to relocate because of her day job, Whitney and Thompson hit on the idea of redoing the album as a Morells disc and touring under the name once again. "We'll have to do it as an in-between thing," Whitney said in a recent phone conversation. "Joe still plays with Dave Alvin and Wrongo with the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, so we have to work around their schedules."