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"When I'm writing, I feel empowered"
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A lone figure wanders through the woods in an unspecified rural location. Suddenly, without warning, a sharp piece of wood seemingly comes out of nowhere and pierces his eyeball. There’s a sickening sound, and everything starts to go black.

No, that’s not a classic scene from any one of the Friday The 13th films, it’s a grisly memory from a recent road trip by Athens singer/songwriter Ken Will Morton that didn’t turn out quite the way he planned.

“I had a 5-hour drive,” he recounts in the slightly bemused manner that could only come from being the beneficiary of a happy ending.

“It was a beautiful day and I was way ahead of schedule. I like to stop at State Parks and play guitar. So I hung out at this park in Tennessee, and I walked out into the woods to take a leak. I saw this little colorful rock and when I reached down to pick it up, I didn’t see this stick coming straight outta the ground.”

You can guess the rest.

“It sounded like a piece of celery breakin’ when it went right in my eye,” Morton continues. “And I’m out in the middle of nowhere! I could feel the blood comin’ down my face, and I couldn’t see out of that eye. So I drove myself to the next town and found a hospital.”

Long story short, this buzz-worthy guitarist wound up with a hefty emergency room bill and little to show for it, save a narcotic drip that calmed him down.

“The hospital charged 400 bucks, and all they did was go, ‘Oooh, that’s bad!’ Then they called this local opthalmologist – some podunk guy, but he did a great job. He came from his house and opened up his office and picked all the bark and stuff out of my eye for 40 bucks.”

About a week later, says Morton, the fog in his vision lifted, and his sight returned just fine. Although it easily could have been much, much worse.

“It turned out I was about a sixteenth of an inch from deflating my fluid sac, and I would’ve had to use a glass eye. Luckily that white tissue in your eye heals up just like a flesh wound. That’s the resiliency of the human body!”

You’d think he’d be nothing but pleased with the outcome, but in half-serious aside moments later, he follows up with an unexpected revelation.

“I was all ready to start lookin’ at eye patches,” he says with a half-chuckle. “That could’ve been my shtick. (Laughs) Ahoy, matey!”

True, I can’t recall a major rock star with an eye patch since that cat from Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show, but to say that Ken Will Morton is in dire need of a gimmick would be a gross miscalculation.

The 33-year-old has been writing songs since he was in his early teens, and has done time in a fistful of indie bands, both straight-up rock and of the more rootsy variety that these days regularly get tagged with catch-all term Americana.

However, it’s his latest album – a solo release entitled In Rock’n’Roll’s Hands – that’s earning this promising artist the most widespread critical acclaim of his entire career.

Blessed with a rich and nuanced (if brittle) voice that’s equal parts whiskey, burlap and steel, Morton comes across on the album’s dozen tunes as a worthy descendant of Larry McMurtry, Steve Earle, Gary Louris, Jim Lauderdale, Jack Logan, and any of a host of other excellent, poetic tunesmiths who straddle the broken lines between country and folk, rock and blues, soul and punk.

In his finest moments, his husky vocals and tricky lyrical cough up fleeting moments of brilliance worthy of such legendary figures as John Hiatt or J.J. Cale.

And as if skirting half-blindness wasn’t enough of a blessing, just as critics both here and in the U.K. (where Morton recently toured and plans to return in the Summer) are starting to take notice of what he’s capable of – he’s got at least one more record already in the can and awaiting release.

And, seemingly no shortage of new songs on the way. In fact, Morton says he can’t enjoy life if he spends too much time away from the act of composition.

“I feel very much compelled to write songs,” he explains with a slight drawl.

“If I’m goin’ through a dry spell, I’m not as optimistic. I don’t feel good in any respect. When I’m writing, I feel empowered. I feel good and complete. If I’m not doin’ it, I feel awkward. I get constant gratification from writing songs.”

His upcoming studio album was produced in Atlanta by former Coolies member Rob Gal, and although Morton plans to distribute the record himself, he hasn’t entirely ruled out the possibility of aligning with an established label.

“Hopefully the right sort of ‘deal’ would manifest itself in due time out of this mysterious, fickle and sleazy business,” he says with a hearty guffaw.

Ken Will Morton plays The Sentient Bean Saturday at 8 pm. Athens’ up-and-coming modern rock songwriter Jason Harwell opens the ALL-AGES show.