William Michael Morgan –Vinyl Review

What does maturity mean? Anyone? William Michael Morgan is 23 years old. He’s just released his debut album, he’s a father, he released his first independent album at 13 years old, moved to Nashville at 18 and secured a publishing contract with Warner at 19 – I don’t know about you but I could barely achieve anything at 23, I’d just left university and was unwillingly taking my first steps in the big, wide world let alone achieving anything like Morgan has done. What’s more – ‘Vinyl’ is a mighty fine album as well, an album oozing with class and gravitas, an album that speaks with the voice of a singer and writer far beyond Morgan’s actual years.

“Vinyl’ begins with ‘People Like Me’, a Garth Brooks style pedal steel guitar driven number that resonates with inclusivity – one of those ‘we’re all the same ‘cos we drink the same, drive the same, think the same’ type of songs that populate Country albums, a great start and a clear statement of intent. Yes, this is 2016 but good music is timeless and this song could have been written at any time since 1988.
Track 2 is the title track and Morgan’s personal favourite on the album, ‘Vinyl’. This is smooth, LA style 70’s Country, reminiscent of Charles Kelley’s recent solo work. A metaphorical song comparing the girl he loves to vinyl. “What we got is a little old fashioned, they don’t make no more like you, if our love was a song girl, I’d play it on vinyl.’ This is a great representation of what Morgan and what the album is about – traditional Country done well with a modern twist.

‘Missing’ is Morgan’s next single and the standout track on ‘Vinyl’ for me. In fact I’d go as far as to say that come the end of the year when the top tens are formulated this will be in many people’s lists for song of the year. A lilting, infectious song with a massive sing-a-long chorus about going off-grid, about going AWOL in order to get your head straight. “I’ll be back someday, I just don’t know when, till then I’ll be a feather floating in the wind, sometimes missing is my favourite place to be.” This is hands in the air escapism of the best kind and an outstanding song which should bring him lots of radio attention.

Following the new single is Morgan’s debut single ‘I Met a Girl.” This was an odd choice for me as radio release, it not being one of the standout songs on ‘Vinyl’. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good Country song but it treads fairly standard lyrical themes and doesn’t raise its head above the parapet like many of the songs here. It’s a very traditional sounding song that ironically was written by Sam Hunt and members of Old Dominion. Morgan loves Hunt’s writing style, ‘He’s got a great way of painting these pictures in his songs,’ he said recently. Morgan grew up listening to Marty Robbins, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and George Jones and it is those influences that are all over this album. “I just fell in love with that sound, the realness of the lyrics and the way you can be moved by a melody.” So ‘Vinyl’ is an excellently executed amalgam of the old traditional sound and the modern twist of popular writers, like Sam Hunt.

‘Spend it All on You’ is next. A soulful, traditional slide guitar orientated number that evokes that smooth 70’s and 80’s sound – in fact if you remove the Country instrumentation from it, it could almost be re-invented as a Lionel Richie song. It has an old fashioned R&B vibe – more LA Country than Texan but it works well.

Track 6 is ‘Beer Drinker’, one of my favourites on the album. This is his version of Lee Brice’s ‘Drinking Class’, another inclusive, we’re all in this together type of affair with a nod towards appreciating the blue collar workers amongst us. It will be a good live song and popular amongst the rowdy crowds!

“I Know Who He Is’ is next and is one of those amazing storyteller songs that only Country can produce. It’s a song about Alzheimers! Yes, you read that right – a song about a son visiting his Dad in hospital and not caring that the father doesn’t recognise him because he knows who he is and has the memories of his life to fall back on. A touching song grounded in reality that evokes early Blake Shelton style writing and intonation. This will resonate with many people going through this type of situation and is a beautifully produced example of what this genre can do when it puts its mind to it.

‘Cheap Cologne’ is next and it lightens the mood somewhat. My second favourite song on the album, another smooth, LA 70’s style number about a cuckolded husband agonising over the fact that he knows his wife is having an affair but seems powerless to do anything about it. The lyrics to this song trip off your tongue and the cadence drifts along in a vein similar to ‘Missing’ – another big sing-a-long straight from the 1980’s.

Track 9 is ‘Somethin’ to Drink About’, a Dierks Bentley style drinking song full of slide guitar. On such a strong album it doesn’t stand out in a way that so many of the other tracks do but ‘filler’ would be doing it a dis-service, so just enjoy this one for what it is, simple , uncomplicated and fun.

Penultimate song, ‘Lonesomeville’ sees us back in early Blake Shelton territory again, in fact Keith Whitley or even Garth Brooks might be better comparisons. A maudlin fiddle starts off this lovely song about loneliness and Morgan draws us in to his story with his strong yet emotional voice. One of my favourites on the album, again, a superb mix of ‘old fashioned’, traditional instruments & structure given a modern ‘do-over’. Potential future single.

The album closes with ‘Backseat Driver’ – a song which sees Morgan is storyteller mode again, this time as a son leaving home for the first time receiving some words of wisdom from his Dad. Given Morgan himself left home for Nashville at 18 years old this might well be semi-biographical. “A bible on the dash and a map tucked in the door, I can’t be your backseat driver anymore,” the father says during the lovely, big, elongated chorus. Some good electric guitar on this track sees Morgan straying into more modern Country territory without losing any of the pathos or mood of his earlier songs.

Morgan himself had this to say about ‘Vinyl’. “I would describe it as traditional but we are always trying to find a happy medium with what radio wants.” It only takes a few listens to this album for you to realise he has achieved what he set out to do – to make an album grounded in the traditional sounds of Country music without losing the sensibilities that have recently come in to the genre and brought thousands of new fans with it. This album has everything the discerning Country listener could want – slide, steel, pedal guitar. Fiddle. Heartbreak. Reality. Fun. Beer. Family and love: it encapsulates what this genre is about. What is amazing is that at the tender of age of 23 Morgan has managed to produce such a genre encompassing album at the first attempt! With experience, hard work and refining of his song writing abilities who knows what he might go on to produce? What he needs to do now is get out on the road, work his ass off for the live crowds, build up his reputation on both sides of the Atlantic (in a way that Kip Moore has managed to do) and utilise social media so that even if radio doesn’t welcome him with open arms there are enough of us around the world that know what a special talent he could be.

8/10

James Daykin

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