Not that he was ever known for taking cues from critics, but Travis Morrison seemed particularly indifferent to getting wholeheartedly blasted by almost everyone who reviewed his first solo album, Travistan. Even though it failed on a lot of levels — mainly, it was way too juvenile and thin-sounding to match the expectations of the cult-ish fanbase of Morrison’s old band, the Dismemberment Plan — it was still an extension of the goofy yet playfully insecure persona he’d cultivated for more than a decade. It was especially respectable to see him tour relentlessly afterward, never offering any less of a performance than one would expect.
Still, respectability wasn’t, and won’t ever be, making Travistan any better of a record, so it’s good news that Morrison has a new band together. He and the Hellfighters have been playing together since the Travistan tour, and lots of the same tongue-in-cheek humor carries over to this new set of still-wanting lyrics. But musically, All Y’All is a huge improvement over the first record. Most notably, Morrison’s picked up his guitar again, and he’s still one of the more unique guitar players in indie rock. His style goes heavy on jazz chords and atypical progressions, though All Y’All puts all that in a new light: without the math-rock leanings of the Dismemberment Plan, or the complete absence of guitars on Travistan, Morrison’s playing meshes with his songs in a way it hasn’t since the Plan signed off with the decidedly more mature Change.
It’s also reassuring to see him return to some familiar themes that seemed to get overlooked on the last go-round: DC geography’s back in the picture on tracks like ‘Hawkins’ Rock’ and ‘East Side of the River,’ while ‘As We Proceed’ covers the serious side of nerd-angst that used to be a cornerstone of D-Plan lyrics. There’s still a quota of dopey party songs, one of which has a weird hypeman cameo on the chorus. But overall, it’s a solid enough record that Morrison might even be able to make his solo work into a career after all.