A solo acoustic singer-songwriter since she was 13, Denton’s Claire Morales put a band together and released her first album last year. The transition has been a resounding success. A recent performance at Harvest House for 35 Denton turned heads. People were looking at each other, wide-eyed over what they were hearing. Morales is a brilliant artist with one of the best live shows in North Texas.
“I honestly couldn’t tell from the stage,” Morales says when asked about the crowd’s response. Perhaps she missed the size of the crowd or how enthusiastically they responded, cheering after every song as if a virtuoso had just improvised a mind-blowing solo. She must have also failed to notice that seemingly everyone at a music festival with more than 100 bands appeared to have Claire Morales on their list of must-see performers.
Morales has a fearless voice that makes a dramatic first impression. She stretches her vocals out across hazy folk rock songs in all sorts of ridiculously dynamic ways. But as wild as her voice is, her enunciation is always very clear. “Prettier,” the opening track from her debut album, Amaranthine, comes out of the gate with a surprising amount of gumption. You find yourself wondering where she learned to sing like that.
Morales was in choir in elementary school, but that’s the extent of her formal vocal training. “I felt like it might change my voice and make it sound maybe technically good, but not as interesting,” she says.
Morales’ lyrics are captivating. “I’ve got something awful in me too / Won’t you push it out?” resonates in plenty of different ways. Prominently inspired by Neil Young, her upbeat rock sounds make great car songs.
“Swarm,” in particular, is a track that easily could score a film scene. “It’s about a bad dream,” Morales says. “I tried to make it really dreamy and melodic.”
Her songs that lean more toward folk will absolutely break your heart. “Lie I Love,” for example, slows things down and brings in some harmonica. With simple lyrics, frequently repeated to add weight until the chorus becomes a mantra, it’s a gorgeous torch song. But Morales’ voice hints at an even greater intensity that is somewhat confusing until her words turn to a longing wail.
“I used to write lyrics a lot more intensely,” Morales says. “I felt like I had to use a lot of words in order to get to a meaning. But that song was a conscious attempt to simplify and say things with fewer words.”
Many great live acts seem to struggle to create recordings that capture the vitality of their live shows. Amaranthine is a fully realized, cohesive body of work, one of the best albums to come from North Texas in recent years. But Morales and her band are now besting it with live performances as she prepares to record a follow-up this summer.
“Amarathine was made with songs I had written for just me on guitar,” Morales says. “We kind of filled it in with the band. But the new album has been written with everyone else in mind.” It will be recorded at The Echo Lab, a Denton County studio with a huge live room that will guarantee even bigger sounds from Morales.
“I usually just write songs and don’t think too much about the genre,” Morales says. But lately she has been taking cues from ‘60s and ‘70s rock, particularly David Bowie and Brian Eno. She also collaborated with Fort Worth’s Gollay for a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.”
Amarathine is tied together by themes of nostalgia, with Morales wondering if who she was as a child would approve of who she is now. “Don’t you ever wonder what little kid you would think of current you?” she says. “You have these ideas and things you want for yourself and they change. I just don’t want to disappoint little kid me.”
But the songs she is working on now are about desire: “I think about how much of life is about what you want and how that can guide your actions,” Morales says. And what she wants will certainly be worth listening to.