Album Review: Miranda Lambert–The Weight of These Wings

Rating: 9/10

Miranda lambert’s sixth studio album has been one of the most anticipated releases of 2016. aside from simply the fact it’s Miranda Lambert, the album has received much attention and speculation because it will be the first after her very public divorce from Blake Shelton in 2015. Many are wondering what Miranda will have to say and whether she will be honest in her approach, unlike Blake’s ironically titled If I’m Honest which we were subjected to in May. We were treated to the first single, “Vice,” in July, an interesting choice that isn’t radio friendly in any sense and held promise for the album. Last month, we received the news that this would be a double album, always a tricky undertaking, and that the track list includes twenty songs co-written by Lambert, along with songwriting credits for Texas artist Adam Hood, rising Americana artists Brent Cobb and Anderson east–who also happens to be Miranda’s current boyfriend–and former Pistol Annies member Ashley Monroe. Also included on the album would be covers of Shake Russell’s “You Wouldn’t Know Me” and Danny O-Keefe’s “Covered Wagon.” With all of this intriguing news, the anticipation and speculation surrounding this record has been understandably high. So putting aside my well documented status as a Miranda Lambert fan, I came into this album eager to hear it, and to see if it would live up to its mostly promising expectations.

The Nerve

The first disc, “The Nerve,” opens with “Runnin’ Just in Case.” The atmospheric production works well with this song of life on the road; Miranda sings, “It ain’t love that I’m chasin’, but I’m runnin’ just in case.” The last lyric of the song feels like a theme throughout this album and Lambert’s state of mind, “Happiness ain’t prison, but there’s freedom in a broken heart.” Rambling life will be a recurring theme on this album, but while the opener feels melancholy and desperate, “Highway Vagabond” tells the life of a drifter with carefree lyrics and upbeat production. It doesn’t really stand out on its own, but it works well in the context of the album. There is some overproduction here, as well as on the next track, “Ugly Lights,” a song about turning into the clich├ęd brokenhearted person sitting in a bar to drown her troubles. The overproduction is especially unfortunate here, as the lyrics are brilliant. I hope with more listens I can get past it for the sake of the writing, but so far that hasn’t happened. Next is the cover of Shake Russell’s “You Wouldn’t Know Me,” and I prefer this version. It really fits Lambert’s voice as well as the album, proving Miranda’s ability to pick smart covers, a skill which can be as important as good, honest songwriting.

Any Miranda Lambert enthusiast knows there is always one song on each album written solely by Lambert; on earlier albums there were far more, but you will still always find one that she wrote by herself. On this record, it’s the lighthearted “We Should be Friends,” advising all those with hearts as empty as diesel tanks, closets stocked with borrowed dresses, and stained white T-shirts that they should be her friend. It’s a nice upbeat moment in a mostly dark album yet still feels quite honest. Usually the solo writing credit will be found on a darker track, so this is a nice change. “Pink sunglasses” follows, and I really can’t understand the point of this, except possibly that she mentions being disguised in the sunglasses, and that they make things seem a bit better. Still, although it sort of fits the theme, it is just unnecessary. It suffers from overproduction too, and I won’t get past it on this song because this song is just not worth it lyrically. It is absolutely no coincidence that Lambert did not have a hand in writing this; in fact, the other one she did not write or choose as a cover is “Highway vagabond,” which I mentioned earlier didn’t especially stand out…but I digress. “getaway driver” introduces the moment we all knew was coming, a song co-written with Anderson East. This is the first quiet moment on the album; Lambert sings from the point of view of a man who helps his woman escape her life like a “getaway driver.” It still connects with the rambling feel of this album, but in an understated way; it’s one of the standouts of this disc. Next is the single, “Vice,” and let me take this moment to insert my status as a Miranda Lambert fan and say I wasn’t thrilled about “Vice” at first. As a reviewer, I recognized it to be an excellent single choice, but I wasn’t overly sold on the production. I’ll gladly take that back; in context, it works flawlessly, adding another dimension to the rambling theme as Lambert runs from town to town chasing whiskey, sex, and music. I wouldn’t call it country; in fact, so far I would call “The Nerve” closer to Americana, but there is a raw, unpolished feeling about it that works.

“Vice” dissolves effortlessly into the slow burning “Smoking Jacket.” Lambert sings of wanting a man with a smoking jacket whose “heart is tragic” but “he makes his magic every night on me.” She also adds, “I don’t need a diamond, I like wearing his smoke rings.” “Pushin’ Time” is the most country so far, opening with just Miranda and her guitar. The song itself is about reckless love and not being able to take it slow; “sometimes love acts out of spite, and good things happen overnight.” This is another highlight of the disc and the entire album. Lambert’s country rock cover of Danny O-Keefe’s “Covered Wagon” works well after the quiet moments, and once again, it’s a perfect cover choice; it’s another track about life on the road, this time obviously in a covered wagon. “The Nerve” closes with the quiet, introspective “Use my Heart.” This features some of the best songwriting on the album, and here we find the inspiration for the disc names; “I can write the line, but I can’t sing the song. I can call my mama, but I won’t go home. The thought of loving you just makes me sick. I don’t have the nerve to use my heart.” This is also the first songwriting appearance by Ashley Monroe, who it seems has never lent her pen to a bad song. So far, with the exception of “pink Sunglasses,” the record has flowed smoothly and seemed to lack filler. But double albums can be risky, so with that in mind, we move on to the second disc.

The Heart

“The Heart” opens with decidedly more country production than “The Nerve.” It will continue to be mostly country throughout. “Tin Man” is an excellent track which sees Lambert explaining to the tin man that “if you ever felt one breaking, you’d never want a heart.” From this first track, it feels as though “The Nerve” is Lambert running from the pain, while “The Heart” sees her confronting it head on. “Good Ol’ Days,” co-written by Brent cobb and Adam Hood, is a lighthearted track on the surface, but it holds more meaning than just an ode to days gone by; Lambert asks “when will the road run out” and says she’ll go back if only she can find the truth. “Things That Break” sees Miranda lamenting the pain she causes, saying “I’m hard on things that matter, hold a heart so tight it shatters, so I stay away from things that break.” There is a vulnerability in this song that reaches out and just slaps you in the face. “For the Birds” feels like the companion of “we Should be Friends.” Both are lighthearted moments surrounded by darkness, but whereas ‘we Should be Friends” is about her personality in general, this one is more about what she stands for.

“Well Rested” is hard to explain–it’s somewhere between heartbreak and personal reflection and features some of the best vocals on the whole thing. All of you who love steel guitar should listen to this one immediately. “Tomboy” is a fun song about just that; “Daddy tried to raise a southern belle, he got a tomboy.” It doesn’t really go with the album, but at the same time, it goes deeper than just listing the characteristics of a tomboy; she’s “hard to love and hard to please,” and explaining “she’s got a soft spot you’ll never see.” Steel guitar lovers, I take my earlier comment back. Listen to “To Learn Her” first. This is a straight-up classic country song. It’s a beautifully written song telling men that “to love her is to learn her.” It is no surprise that Ashley Monroe’s pen is once again found here, as this is the shining moment of “The Heart.” This could easily have been on a Monroe record. after this traditional song, “Keeper of the Flame” feels appropriate–it’s an ode to the songwriters who came before Lambert, and her promise that she won’t let their legacies die. Because of this, I wish it would have been more traditional, but the country rock production works pretty well.

“Bad Boy” starts off interestingly, with Miranda singing half a line and then asking, “can I ask one more question, what’s the intro?” I love that this is in there–it’s the exact opposite of every polished record coming out of Nashville. This one is more similar in production to “The Nerve,” standing out as “Pushin’ Time” did on that disc. This is an ode to the bad boys and the women who want them, but once again, it’s not shallow; it feels like this disc’s companion to “Smoking Jacket.” I prefer “Smoking Jacket,” but this still doesn’t really feel like filler. There is no way to describe the production on “Six Degrees of separation” except strange. I wouldn’t call it overproduced necessarily, but it just doesn’t go with Lambert’s voice or the lyrics. It’s like someone thought it would make the song more depressing to add some sort of alternative stoner rock feel. It doesn’t come off as depressing or angry, it just comes off as annoying. The song itself is about running from heartbreak but never being able to escape the memories. Lyrically, it’s pretty good, but I can’t imagine getting past the train wreck that is the production. Then “Dear Old Sun” arrives, and we’re back to country/acoustic rock. This is simply a nice little ode to the sun and the morning light. The album concludes much as it began, with the rambling “I’ve Got Wheels.” It connects the whole record seamlessly as Lambert sings, “When I can’t fly, I start to fall, but I’ve got wheels, I’m rollin’ on.”

Overall

Double albums always run the risk of containing too much filler, and that was definitely a concern with this project. However, except for “Pink Sunglasses,” and to a much lesser extent, “Tomboy” and “Bad Boy,” all the tracks feel like they belong here. Honestly, I would have given this album a ten without the unfortunate inclusion of “Pink Sunglasses,” and perhaps even with it if the obnoxious production of “Six Degrees of separation” and some overproduced moments hadn’t been present. lyrically, it’s mostly a great effort, and I am impressed that Miranda not only co-wrote most of this, but also used the opportunity to showcase little-known songwriters outside the mainstream. I didn’t even mention Irish singer Foy Vance, who co-wrote “Pushin’ Time,” but that was one of the most impressive names found here. As I mentioned, there some production issues, but overall, that was solid as well. I don’t think there is too much material here; “The Nerve” is the edgy Americana half where Lambert runs from her pain and problems, while “The Heart” is the heartfelt country reflections that find her confronting and dealing with the heartache. As I have said many times, the best music is honest and makes you feel something, and that is what this album does. It brings you in and shows you what Miranda Lambert is going through right now, while at the same time holding you at arm’s length, reflecting Lambert’s refusal to do interviews about this release and keeping her privacy while speaking through the music. It’s an album I absolutely recommend, the best album we’ve seen come out of the mainstream in 2016.

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Album Review: Mo Pitney–Behind This Guitar

Rating: 7.5/10

First of all, I know I’m quite late on this album review, and it was honestly because it took this long for me to think of anything to say about it. Some albums provoke an immediate reaction in me, and with others it takes time and several listens. I decided it was better to comment late and have the review more accurately fit my thoughts than to try and force a premature opinion. I will also say this is going to be a love it or hate it kind of album for many, due to reasons I will explain shortly.

Mo Pitney’s debut album comes almost two years after the lead single, “Country,” and for many listeners, only about half of this album was new. We can attribute this to Pitney being in the unenviable position of being signed to Curb Records–if that comment means nothing to you, you can read all about the previous dealings of Mike Curb here. To that end, a good portion of this album came out in singles ahead of its release.
Read: Single Review: Mo Pitney’s “Boy and a Girl Thing”
Pitney has sparked the interest of traditionalists in much the same way as William Michael Morgan, with all of the previously mentioned singles bringing a decidedly country sound. The weak point of most of these singles was the lyrics. Now we finally have a whole album, and a lot more to go on with Mo Pitney.

The album opens with “Country,” which is a complete exploration of that word, from what it means to live in the country to country music to soldiers fighting for their country. This song was underwhelming to me when it was released as the lead single because the lyrics were simple to almost bordering on cheesy. However, in the context of this album, it has grown on me quite a lot. I have discovered this slightly corny quality seems to be a trademark of MO Pitney. It is this trademark which will make the album a love or hate thing for a lot of people because it is pretty much present throughout the album.

“Cleanup on Aisle 5” sees the narrator standing in a grocery store after just running into his ex. It seems like he thought he was over her, but standing here with his box of Cheerios he knows that isn’t true. There is a sincerity in this song that also shines throughout the album, and that believability combined with acoustic guitars and light fiddle make this song stand out. “Come Do a Little Life” is a simple little love song in which a man is inviting a woman to spend the rest of her life with him. He describes all the things they can do together, from seeing a high school football game to going to the hardware store. It’s simple, but it works; in reality, you spend a lot more time doing mundane things like going to hardware stores than say, hooking up on tailgates. “Just a Dog” is easily the album highlight. We hear about how the narrator found the dog ten years ago on the side of the road in the rain, and thought, “It’s just a dog, right?” But he took her home, and then we hear about how he saved her when she got hit by a car, how she “lost her place on the couch” when he met a girl, and then how she helped him the night the woman left. In the end, we find out the dog has just died, and he is finally realizing how much more she was than “just a dog.”

“Everywhere” is the only song with more contemporary instrumentation, but I think it mixes the traditional and the modern rather nicely. Pitney sings about someone being everywhere with him; it could be a person, or it could be God, based on the ambiguity of the lyrics. “Boy and a Girl Thing” is next, and this one is the track I tend to skip. It’s the song where the cheesy element goes too far, citing all the ways a boy and a girl react to each other throughout the different stages of their lives. I liked it better as a single than I do in the album’s context. Another highlight is the upbeat, fun “I Met Merle haggard Today.” This song is about just that, and it’s simply a song that is just fun to listen to. “Take the Chance” advises people to take a chance when they meet someone. It’s honestly the lesser version of “As She’s Walking Away” by the Zac Brown Band and Alan Jackson; it’s the same message, but it’s very forgettable. It isn’t a bad song, but it could have been left off without effect.

“When I’m With You” is another fun, upbeat track about being with a woman; it doesn’t matter if they go anywhere or just sit together under the stars because it’s just about being with each other. The sincerity in Mo Pitney’s delivery helps the next track, “Love Her Like I Lost Her,” in which the man has a vivid dream about his girlfriend dying in a car crash. He calls her in the middle of the night to make sure she’s all right, and vows from now on to “love her like I lost her.” “Behind This Guitar” seems to be autobiographical, telling how Pitney grew up with music and is now living out his dream. He thanks all the people who helped get him to this point, and says, “I’m not the only one behind this guitar.” The album closes with “Give Me Jesus,” which many have cited as the worst moment of the whole thing. It’s a very simple song of faith, and personally, I would say even if you don’t have this faith, the honesty here is refreshing. It’s not a song like “Real Men Love Jesus,” where Christianity is some kind of checklist item of country cred. It’s genuine, and regardless of your beliefs, genuineness is desperately needed in country music right now.

Overall, this album is quite good. It remains country throughout, and there is a genuine sincerity about the whole thing. For me, it’s better as a collection of songs than as a whole album though, as the slight corniness starts to weigh the album down. Although there really isn’t a wrong step, aside from possibly “Boy and a Girl Thing,” there really isn’t much that stands out. “Just a Dog” is the exception to this. at the same time, I can see how many people would disagree, and find a lot to really love about this album. It’s one you really need to listen to for yourself, and definitely one that shows a lot of potential in Mo Pitney.

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Country Music vs. Good Music: Does Genre Matter?

There has been a lot of talk lately about genre lines and how important they really are. Does it matter that an album sounds country if the lyrics are bland? Is hearing songs rife with fiddle and steel on the radio really an improvement in itself, or have we gone so far that country-sounding music is praised over good music in general? Do we overlook artists like David Nail and Eric Church, both of whom have put out solid country albums in the past year, while propping up more traditional artists like Mo Pitney and William Michael Morgan just because they sound a certain way? All of this boils down to one question: Does genre really matter at all?

Well, that is a difficult question to answer, and there are differing viewpoints on all sides. This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write because of the sheer number of people who may disagree, and I could ignore it, but I feel inclined to address it, and to be honest with myself and all of you. Honesty is absent everywhere in music right now, and that is one of the driving factors behind Country Exclusive’s existence, so I am going to do my best to provide it.

The simple answer is no, genre doesn’t matter. Good music is good music regardless of who is singing or what genre it is labeled. This is why I gave Carrie Underwood’s Storyteller two different grades–one as a country album, and one as simply an album. It makes a pretty good pop album. Kelsea Ballerini made a decent pop album too and then sent the singles to country radio–and not the best singles either, I might add, but that’s a different story. I wrote that Courtney Marie Andrews defied genre lines in Honest Life, and while not being the most country album, it is the best album I have reviewed to date. Good music can and does come out of every genre, and that is what we should be looking for the most.

To add to that, I want to say that country can be good without having fiddle and steel. I have written in several Red dirt album reviews a sentiment like, “This isn’t the album to buy if you want fiddle and steel,” followed by praise of the album. Red Dirt has a raw honesty that often surpasses genre, and this is evident in the massive sonic difference between Jason Eady and Reckless Kelly, both of whom have produced an inordinate amount of great music during their respective careers. There’s good pop country too, like the aforementioned Carrie Underwood and David Nail. Eric Church produced one of the better albums of 2015, both musically and lyrically, and you won’t find fiddle or steel anywhere on it. I have written a great deal about Maddie & Tae, advising strict traditionalists to give them a chance because they were bringing country back to radio, even if it was pop country. I praised Aubrib Sellers and her debut album which she labeled “garage country.” I’m far from a country purist, ready to criticize something immediately because it isn’t what country “should” sound like.

However, this idea of good music first has been taken too far. William Michael Morgan got a #1 at radio with “I Met a Girl,” which, while indeed lyrically weak, actually sounded country. It’s a step in the right direction as much as the songwriting on Eric Church’s album or the CMA wins of Chris stapleton. Why? Because something actually resembling country can be heard on country radio for the first time in years. But if genre doesn’t matter, why are we even celebrating? Surely Morgan’s “I Met a Girl” is just more shitty music with fiddle and steel.

It’s because truthfully, genre can’t be ignored completely. If you went to a bookstore and found the books arranged in categories of “good” and “bad,” this wouldn’t help you find a book at all. It’s because these terms are subjective. If you wanted to read crime fiction, you would go to the section marked crime fiction, and from there, you could decide which books you wanted to read. If you found romance in the crime fiction section, you would say the book has been put in the wrong place. Of course, there are books that have elements of both and can therefore be classified as both. Now, let’s apply this to music. Crime fiction might be country, romance might be pop, and the two might blend to make pop country. A book containing many different elements might be labeled just “fiction” or “literature”–in music, this could be Americana, with its blending of many styles. There are probably good books in all the different genres, but since you came looking for crime fiction, you aren’t going to be satisfied with a good romance novel. In the same way, if you want to hear traditional country, you won’t find it in the pop country of Carrie Underwood, the country rock of Eric Church, or the Americana of Jason Isbell.

Therefore, when an artist like Morgan comes along, who actually sounds traditional, it’s right to be excited that he’s getting airplay. It’s right to fight to hear more country on country radio–in fact, many of us ran to underground country simply because of the lack of country on country radio. And it’s right to want to see mainstream Nashville and country radio embrace people like Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price. We can run to Americana and give up on the mainstream altogether, but no matter how you look at it, Americana isn’t country. Some of it is excellent, but it still isn’t country. It isn’t the music we fell in love with, the music we miss. We should praise music of substance regardless of how it sounds, but the lack of country on country radio is just an important a problem as the lack of substance in the music.

I daresay the majority, if not all of us, fell in love with country music, at least in part, by listening to country radio. Maybe you grew up with the legends like Haggard and Nelson. Maybe you remember Keith Whitley and Randy Travis, or maybe you miss the sounds of Alan Jackson, George Strait, and Vince Gill. Maybe you’re like me, and the first country you ever heard was the Dixie Chicks. Regardless, you heard all of them because they were played on country radio and available to the masses, just like their pop country counterparts. Pop country has always been around, but never has it replaced and eradicated the traditional as it has in recent years. Wherever your nostalgia comes from, you fell out of love with country radio after it lost the sound and substance you were drawn to. Today, even though the substance is slowly returning, there is still a noticeable lack of the sound. People growing up with country radio today might associate country with Luke Bryan or Thomas Rhett, both of whom lack the sound and the substance. Or maybe they’ll associate country with Carrie Underwood and Eric Church–they will recognize the substance but lose the sound. But until Morgan and Pardi, there hasn’t been a traditional sound being carried to the masses in years. Pop country isn’t a bad thing, but the complete elimination of the traditional is a terrible thing, and a dangerous thing for country as we know it. Therefore, when an artist like Morgan breaks through and gets a #1 single, we should all be celebrating. There is still much work to be done in Nashville, both in sound and substance, but Morgan, and others like him, are bringing hope for everyone who thought traditional country was lost. He’s not pop country, he’s not country rock, he’s not Americana. He’s just country. And I miss country. I fell in love with country. Country is my passion as a fan and my focus as a reviewer. It’s what I’ll always love the most, even though I praise and listen to plenty of good music from other genres, and it seemed, not long ago, that the music I loved would be lost forever in the mainstream. I am nothing but glad that Morgan and Pardi have broken through, and that young people out there listening to country radio once again have the opportunity to fall in love with real country the way I did. As I said, there is still a lot of work to be done, but let’s all recognize this for what it is, a positive step, and be glad for how far we’ve come.

Album Review: Courtney Marie Andrews–Honest Life

Rating: 10/10

Before I say anything, credit to trigger of Saving Country Music for bringing Courtney Marie Andrews into my life and now to my pen. There is a reason we do this–not to point out all the bad in the mainstream, but to introduce new and deserving artists to the world, to provide a platform for people seeking good music to find it. Enter Courtney Marie Andrews, a 25-year-old singer/songwriter from Phoenix, Arizona, and her latest album, Honest Life I will say two things about this record; firstly, it is not a country record, but more a folk record, with elements of country, rock, and pop mixed in, and secondly, it is the best album I have reviewed to date.

The album opens with “Rookie dreaming,” and the first lines immediately hold my attention and introduce the great songwriting that will be present throughout this entire album. “I was singing with the choir on the train. I was a traveling man, I did not yet have a name. I was a 1960s movie, I was a one-night love story, I was a you’ll never see me again.” This song features nice piano and acoustic guitar, and Courtney’s voice reminds me of an excellent cross between Joni Mitchell and Linda Ronstadt. The style resembles Ronstadt too, with the blend of country, folk, and rock that was Linda’s signature. “Not the End” is a love song in which Andrews sings from a hotel bed where she is “dreaming up every memory” to feel closer to someone she loves. “I didn’t think it was possible to lose you again, so won’t you hold me and tell me that this is not the end.” If you didn’t hear Joni Mitchell in the opener, you certainly will here; the emotion and phrasing in Courtney’s voice is closer to Mitchell’s than anything I have heard.

“Irene” adopts a more folk/pop rock sound; here, Courtney gives advice to a woman named Irene, including “keep your grace” and “don’t go falling in love with yourself.” It is universal in that it is relatable to everyone, but also could be specific to anyone who hears it. “How Quickly Your Heart Mends” is the moment where you will recall Linda Ronstadt the most; here, a woman is “hiding out in the bathroom of this bar,” devastated that her ex is acting like they never met. She put on the dress he loved, and now she feels like a fool and can’t believe he is ignoring her–“go on, and leave with your new friends, how quickly your heart mends.” The piano and steel really stand out on this track. “Let the good One Go” is another heartbreak song, this one about a woman missing someone she apparently let go. She thinks about calling him and wonders if he thinks about her, saying, “Oh you will know, when you’ve let a good one go.” The light instrumentation on this song brings the emotion and lyrics to the forefront. “Honest Life,” the album’s title track, is another simple, acoustic song that feels very personal to Courtney. “All I’ve ever wanted is an honest life, to be the person that I really am inside, to tell you all the things that I did that night. Sometimes it just ain’t easy to live an honest life.” The songwriting is excellent on this whole album, but it may be the best here–ask me tomorrow, and I might change my mind.

The next three songs explore distance from those you love, similar to the theme introduced in “Not the End.” In “Table for One,” Courtney arrives in Ohio after a trip from Houston–the verses would suggest it might be on a tour–feeling lonely and ready to go home. “You don’t wanna be like me, this life, it ain’t free, always chained to when I leave.” This one is stripped down too and lets the lyrics and Courtney’s voice shine. “Put The Fire Out” brings back the piano and is closer to the sound of “How Quickly Your Heart Mends.” Here, Andrews sings from a plane, as she flies home to reunite with her loved ones and put her rambling life behind her. “I am ready to put the fire out. There’s a place for everything, and I think I know mine now.” This was the first one I heard from Courtney, and I’ll post it here because it should lead you to the rest of this record. “15 Highway Lines” is a similar song, but this one is focused on reuniting with the one you love after time apart;–“13 hours till I see you. Flying all around this world so you can see me too.” It really captures the love, pain, and hope unique to long-distance relationships. The album closes with “Only in my Mind,” another excellent song in which the narrator paints pictures of life with someone she loves, but these pictures are only in her mind, as the relationship has ended. It seems to be mainly her fault it is over, or at least she believes this. It’s another one that captures the emotion perfectly and closes the album brilliantly.

If you haven’t figured it out, this album is special. It isn’t strictly country; it’s a unique mix of folk, country, pop, and roc, with the perfect production for each track. It is one of those rare albums that defies and transcends genre lines and just speaks for itself. Courtney Marie Andrews has a voice you will not soon forget, recalling Joni Mitchell and Linda Ronstadt, yet still unique. The songwriting on this album is nothing short of brilliant. It’s simple and complex at once. This album is both the poetry of Jason Isbell and the relatability of Vince Gill. It is raw and honest and real, and everyone should absolutely hear it.

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Album Review: William Michael Morgan–Vinyl

Rating: 8/10

William Michael Morgan gained the attention of traditionalists about a year ago, when he released “I Met a Girl,” the decidedly country, if lyrically underwhelming, arrangement of a song written by none other than country music antichrist Sam Hunt. To some, this was a mark against him immediately; to others, myself included, this proved that Morgan cared about the traditional sound of his music. In March, his EP arrived, bringing nothing ground-breaking yet filled with promise and potential.

Review: William Michael Morgan EP

We finally got a full album from Morgan Friday, and although it’s not perfect, it’s an unapologetically country record coming out of mainstream Nashville which is a victory in itself in 2016. It’s not Haggard and Jones country, but it is Strait and Jackson and Keith Whitley country, and that’s exactly what we need right now–a mainstream artist bringing a true country sound to the masses. The Jason Isbells and Turnpike Troubadours of the world won’t get airplay; William Michael Morgan’s “I Met a Girl” will hit #1 this week. Because of this, we need to root for William Michael Morgan as much as Isbell and the Troubadours. With all that in mind, I’ll get to my thoughts on Vinyl

The album opens with “People Like Me,” a decidedly country song that could have been a hit on 90;s radio. If you read this at all, you know the importance I place on openers, and this one signifies William Michael Morgan’s country approach without apology. Many artists who are releasing pretty good albums with a few terrible singles choose the said terrible singles as openers, thereby hurting the album as a whole–Zac Brown Band’s “Beautiful drug,” anyone? The premise of “People Like Me” is an ode to the working class people who didn’t go to college and live paycheck to paycheck. “Vinyl,” the title track, follows; I have mixed opinions about this one. I quite liked it on the EP; it’s a song about an old-fashioned love that is classic like vinyl. It’s not a hookup song or disrespectful by any means, but I do find the repeated use of ‘girl” to be annoying; it’s the same thing we criticize Florida Georgia line for, so I can’t let Morgan get by with lazy lyricism even if it has country instrumentation. It’s hard to form an opinion here, and I can see how people could enjoy it or hate it.

“Missing” is one of the highlights of the album; here, Morgan escapes the world for awhile to go “on a mission to be missing.” He ignores his messages and leaves the world behind, something we all should do a little more often. The instrumentation and production combine to make this a really fun and enjoyable listen. Next is the single, “I Met a Girl,”–this has grown on me considerably since its release. It’s a very basic song about, well, meeting a girl, but although the lyrics aren’t earth-shattering, there’s a sincerity about it that really stands out. “Spend it All on You” is a nice, lighthearted track about getting away with a girl to enjoy time together. This one is one of the more modern-leaning songs on the album, but modern-leaning is the key here; it is still traditional. IN fact, the whole album stays with a definite traditional sound. “Beer Drinker” came from the EP; there is not much to say about this song. Its lyrics could be considered shallow by some, as it attributes everything that gets done to the work of beer drinkers. However, as I stated in the EP review, we all love George Strait’s “Stop and Drink,” and that doesn’t come off pandering at all. It is just a fun song that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I think “Beer Drinker” is intended to be much the same.

“I Know Who he Is” is another highlight; I wish the production were a little less modern-leaning here, but the lyrics are great. The narrator is talking to the doctor about his dad, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease;

I don’t wanna hear he’s going downhill, what about thank God he’s around still? Looking right through me’s not at all the way I see him. I don’t mind at all remembering for him, he doesn’t have to get why I adore him. He doesn’t have to know me, I know who he is.

“Cheap Cologne” carries a throwback, Keith Whitley style sound that really suits Morgan. This was one of the highlights of the EP and is about a man who lies at home in bed with his bourbon while his woman is out, probably cheating–She don’t smoke cigarettes, and I don’t wear cheap cologne.” “Something to drink About” is similar to “Beer Drinker” in that it walks a fine line between safe and shallow. It just lists all the possible reasons for drinking, which again is quite like strait’s “Stop and Drink.” This could have been left off and it would have made no difference, but it doesn’t really hurt the album either. “Lonesomeville,” co-written by William Michael Morgan, is the best of the album–it’s a classic country heartbreak song that has been told thousands of times, and that’s really all I can say about it. It speaks for itself with a listen. The album closes with “Backseat driver,” which has emerged over several listens as a dark horse for my personal favorite. It’s a song about a young man leaving home while his dad gives him advice about the road ahead and tells him, “I can’t be your backseat driver anymore.” This one isn’t as traditional as some of the others, but this one is more believable from the 22-year-old Morgan, and this authenticity makes it stand out.

Overall, this is a really solid album, especially for a debut. William Michael Morgan is perfectly clear and uncompromising in his desire to make country music with a traditional sound. The lyrics are weak in places, and there are definitely some safe songs. This album has its flaws, but it also has several standouts. Most importantly, it is filled with promise for William Michael Morgan and for mainstream country in general.

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