Tag Archives: Keith Whitley

Reflecting on: How I Came to Love Country Music

It’s written in my half of our writers page that “my first and deepest love will always be country music.” That doesn’t mean I don’t like other genres, and even within country, I’m certainly not a purist. I’ve definitely come to appreciate music from many different styles over the years, and you’ll even find me discussing some of it on this blog. But my first love was country, and it will always be my passion and the one thing I feel qualified to talk about.

So where did I get that love for country music? You might think living in Oklahoma, I was ensconced in it from the day I was born, but my parents were mostly into classic pop and rock, and it’s these styles which make up my earliest memories of music. It was later, when I started school, that I first began hearing country songs, and they came from my grandma. She’d pick me up from school, and she always had our country station playing in her car. These days, it plays 80’s and 90’s and 00’s country, but back then, in the late 90’s, it was a mix of classic and modern. She and I generally gravitated toward different sounds, but that was okay because the same station that played Merle Haggard also played the Dixie Chicks, whose record was one of the first country albums I ever owned. I remember my parents” reactions at first, not believing I was getting so much into country. Both of them eventually followed me into the genre and enjoy a lot of country from the late 90’s and early 00’s.

I didn’t always love her brand of country back then, but I did get into Merle Haggard and Keith Whitley. She didn’t always love mine, but she dearly loved Brad Paisley’s “We Danced.” We could agree on George strait in equal measure, as he seemed to bridge the gap between our generations. She always loved “I Just Want to Dance With You” and “Living and Living Well.” We drifted some as I grew older, for reasons which aren’t important here, and we didn’t see each other as much as we had when I was young. But we still had that time, that few minutes between leaving school and reaching my house, and we still had that music to share.

When I got into high school, I branched out some from country, starting to get into pop and rock and modern Christian music. I never drifted too far from country music during that time, but I was always careful throughout my time in school to not completely show my obsession with it. But it was there in full force; I sang records till I could perfect them, and I also started to write songs. And even though I was discovering other genres of music at the time, my love of country music only grew stronger. And it was during this time that my grandma was diagnosed with cancer. She fought it most of the time I was in high school. We didn’t speak much about it, and it’s not like our relationship changed, but that time we had in her car and the music we shared came to mean more. She eventually went into remission, and when I graduated high school, she was well.

I went to college for my passion, and it was there that I really became exposed to different styles of music, both through friends and through popular music courses. At this time, I drifted away quite a bit from my first love and began to explore all kinds of other music, and it’s something for which I’m still thankful. I got an appreciation for all different types of music and a newfound respect for the art of making it. Country was also going pretty much off the rails by this time (2010), so I was listening to it less and less.

But no form of musical expression can speak to real-life situations like country music, and I found my first love again when my grandma’s cancer returned, this time without hope for a cure. I wanted to listen to the music that she introduced me to, and it brought me comfort during those last days as we took care of her. We eventually lost her six years ago Sunday (Nov. 19th.) I listened to Merle Haggard and Keith Whitley and George Strait nonstop after that because it was the only thing that helped me. “I Just Want to Dance with You” will always make me think of her.

Her music brought me through that time like only music can, and it’s her love of country music that still lives on in me. I am so thankful that she introduced me to it and instilled that love in me, for music is the one thing that has always been there for me no matter what. It’s the one thing I have counted on to get me through loss, divorce, loneliness, and pain. And I can never, ever thank her enough for that gift.

The Case For Inducting Keith Whitley into the Country Music Hall of Fame

It is that time of year when we start anticipating the names who will be added to the famously selective Country Music Hall of Fame. The Hall has been notoriously careful about preserving an elite class of members, to the point there is now a significant backlog of artists, writers, and musicians who probably should already have been inducted by now. I am not writing this to assert that Keith Whitley deserves to be in before say, Alan Jackson, whose exclusion has become almost ridiculous, or to discount others worthy of the distinction. This is why I mentioned the backlog, as Keith Whitley is one of several names who have earned their place here and have yet to receive it. But I do consider it a travesty that Keith Whitley’s motorcycle, pictured here, has made it into the Hall before Whitley himself. So perhaps because of the seeming uncertainty among many that Whitley deserves this honor at all, or perhaps because I want to explain why I signed the petition started by his fans to have him inducted, or perhaps simply because Keith Whitley’s music is one of the biggest reasons I fell in love with country music and still carry a passion for it to this day, I feel especially compelled to reach out and explain why Keith Whitley deserves a place alongside his piers and his motorcycle in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Career

Keith Whitley grew up in Kentucky and first made a name for himself performing in Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys. He was fifteen at the time, and he and fellow singer Ricky Skaggs became widely respected in the world of bluegrass. In 1983, he moved to Nashville and later signed with RCA Records. At first, he made more contemporary country music. His biggest chart successes during this time included the singles “Ten Feet Away” and “Miami, My Amy.” He also married fellow country singer Lorrie Morgan in 1986.

Whitley asked to have his second full-length studio album shelved, feeling that the music wasn’t really his style. Back then, the concept of labels actually listening to artists and giving them creative control was not so foreign, and the result was the 1988 release Don’t Close Your Eyes. This was a more traditional-sounding album, similar to the music being put out by Randy Travis and George Strait. IN fact, Whitley had previously recorded both “ON the Other Hand,” later a hit single by Travis, and “Nobody in His Right Mind Would Have Left Her,” which became a #1 hit for Strait, on his 1985 album L.a. to Miami. Whitley’s vision for Don’t Close Your Eyes proved successful, as the album produced three #1 singles in 1988 and 1989. These included the title track, “When You Say Nothing at All,” and “I’m no Stranger to the Rain,” all of which have become timeless songs. As a fan, I can say they are three of my favorite country songs of all time. “I’m NO stranger to the Rain” won him his only CMA Award and a Grammy nomination. It was expected that Whitley was on his way to becoming a country superstar.

Untimely Death

One of the biggest reasons for the success and popularity of Keith Whitley was the raw emotion he conveyed in his songs. His last producer stated,

There was no Pro Tools at that point. Pitch accuracy and things like that were important. But someone who could express the emotion and really own the song, so to speak, that counted for a lot. And Keith certainly knew how to do that.

Many modern singers have identified Whitley as the one who taught them to bring out this emotion in their songs, not just to sing, but to tell the story of a character.

But the emotional power in Keith Whitley’s voice came at a high price. despite his musical success, Whitley’s life was troubled. He could express pain so easily in a song because he lived it out. His alcoholism was an ongoing battle, made harder by depression and by the fact he had lost both his brother and father by 1987. The country music community was well aware of his struggles with alcohol and were pulling for him; Keith made the issues quite public, and “I’m NO stranger to the Rain” was written about it. He seemed to be trying to deal with it, but on May 9, 1989, at the age of thirty-four, Whitley died in his home of what was ruled to be alcohol poisoning. His blood alcohol level was stated to be .47, the equivalent of 20 1-ounce shots of 100-proof whiskey. And thus, tragically, Keith Whitley’s career had ended just as it had begun.

Influence

So the question is, after only a handful of hit singles, does Keith Whitley deserve country music’s highest honor? As I stated above, there is no doubt that there are many others also deserving of this recognition, and certainly there are names whose inclusion is long overdue. The problem that arises with Keith Whitley is whether or not his career was impactful and long-lasting enough to warrant him such a distinction. Would he really have been a superstar, or does his legacy elevate his status? Does a career as short as Keith’s merit equal respect and consideration with that of someone like the aforementioned Alan Jackson, who is well-liked by the industry and has been churning out quality and commercially successful music for two decades? What sets Keith Whitley apart from the countless others who charted a small string of hits and then faded into irrelevancy?

The answer is Keith Whitley’s legacy and influence. He continued to produce top 5 singles after his death, and several compilation albums were released. Some of his previously unreleased material would come out in subsequent years, and a tribute album was made in his honor in 1994. Alison Krauss’s version of “When You Say Nothing at all” was released as a single from the tribute album; it became one of her biggest hits and has since been covered by other artists. Whitley is considered to have helped open the door for the class of ’89 which included Jackson, Clint Black, Travis Tritt, and now Hall of Fame member Garth brooks. Garth initially tried to turn down his induction in 2012 because he felt others, including Whitley, deserved to be admitted before him. Tim McGraw, inspired by Keith Whitley’s music and passion, famously arrived in Nashville the day Whitley died and has also cited him as an inspiration for dealing with alcohol issues of his own. Vince Gill began writing “Go Rest High on That Mountain” after Keith’s death, and although Gill finished it several years later following his brother’s passing, the song remains a tribute to Whitley as well; this is embodied in the line, “You weren’t afraid to face the devil, you were no stranger to the rain.” The song won the 1995 Grammy for Best Country Song and has become a standard at funerals and arguably Vince Gill’s signature song. Ironically, Gill said of “Go Rest High on that Mountain” in his own 2009 Hall of Fame induction, “Turns out, if anybody remembers any of my songs, it’ll be this one.”

Keith Whitley is still influencing artists today. Chris Young paid $15,000 for Whitley’s guitar and says Keith influenced his singing. Part of Young’s decision to sign with RCA was that Keith Whitley had been on that label. It’s a shame Chris Young doesn’t take his Whitley-like voice and lend it to less boring songs, but I digress. Other artists, including Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley, are said to play the singer’s music regularly. Perhaps the most impressive and telling sign of the impact of Keith Whitley came in 2014 when then seventeen-year-old Jake Worthington, a contestant on NBC’s The Voice, auditioned with “Don’t Close Your Eyes.” Whitley had died years before Jake Worthington was ever born. The performance became a standout of the season and a hallmark moment for Worthington.

It can be argued that Keith Whitley didn’t do enough in his career to be considered for the Hall of Fame. But few can make the impact he did over such a short time. If he had been able to continue making records, he might be a living legend like George Strait. Or maybe he would have faded into obscurity like so many other artists before and after him. But the fact is, none of this happened, and much like Hank Williams and Patsy Cline before him, his tragic death created a legend and a legacy around him. But it takes more than legacy to explain the kind of lasting impact he had and continues to have on country music. It takes a voice like his that could express such raw emotion, to make songs that inspire people twenty-eight years later. It takes an authenticity and vulnerability rarely seen in music. It takes something real and raw that used to be the foundation of country music, the very thing that is disappearing from the airwaves today. It takes a connection so strong that it can make the kind of impression in a few albums that most artists struggle to make in twenty. Keith Whitley lived out the pain in his songs, and it’s that honesty, that part of himself left behind in his music, which transcends the years, influences generations of artists, and has earned him a place among the most elite in country music.

The Petition to Induct Keith Whitley into the Country Music Hall of Fame

In 2015, a group of dedicated Keith Whitley fans drafted a petition for the singer’s induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The petition has gained 7,600 signatures so far and states, among other things, that Keith Whitley’s love for and influence of country music should be recognized by the Hall.

Sign the Petition

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: 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.

Listen to Album

Review: William Michael Morgan EP

Rating: 8/10

In the constant fight to take back country music, many people point to the outlaw movement of the 1970s and call on another Willie or Waylon–an “outlaw” who will ignore labels altogether and make the music he or she wants to make. The outlaws were responsible for turning country back from the softer, more commercial Nashville sound, and modern examples of this might be Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson, both achieving major success without the support of Nashville (although Simpson has since gained Nashville’s attention.) One could also point to Texas artists such as the Turnpike Troubadours, content to stick to their own sound and style rather than sell out for a quick road to greater fame. These “outlaws” are certainly necessary if country music is ever to be saved–but there is another kind of savior, less talked about but no less important. In 1981, one Texas-based artist was signed to MCA for one single. He was thought to be too traditional for radio, but he was given one chance. That artist was George Strait, who would go on to have arguably the biggest career in country music and who remains signed to MCA to this day. He did as much to save country music as the outlaws, but from a different, more radio-friendly angle. In 2016, we need these advocates just as much as the Jason Isbells and Turnpike Troubadours of the world, maybe more, because they are the ones who will start to turn the tide from the inside. This is why we fight and root for Chris Stapleton, Maddie & Tae, and now, William Michael Morgan.

William Michael Morgan, a 22-year-old singer-songwriter from Mississippi, caught the attention of traditionalists last year when he released the single, “I Met a Girl,” co-written by none other than country music antichrist Sam Hunt. I’ll be honest here; I was underwhelmed by the song itself, but I was impressed with Morgan’s traditional country voice and style, as well as the fact that he’d rearranged a Sam Hunt co-write into a decent country song, and I was ready to hear more. An EP is only a taste of what we can expect from an album, and it is certainly not the ideal way to judge an artist–this is the first one I’ve reviewed–but this EP reinforces my faith in William Michael Morgan as someone whom we should be watching.

The front half of the EP is slightly more radio-friendly than the back half. It is obvious William Michael Morgan and his team are trying to appeal to more modern country fans while still sounding traditional. “Vinyl” is a solid song about an old-fashioned love that is classic, like a vinyl record. I notice immediately two things: this song is very country, while still being relatively radio-friendly, and the repeated references to “girl.” This repeating of “girl” is akin to bro country and might be annoying to people, but this is a love song; it’s not a song about hooking up in a cornfield. Its lyrics are respectful, and it sounds country. Next is “Beer Drinker,” a song attributing all the things that get done, from the steak you’re eating to the hot tub you’re enjoying, to the work of beer drinkers. This could be seen as clich├ęd and pandering lyrically, but it comes across more like George Strait’s “Stop and Drink,” a fun, catchy song we all accept as lighthearted country that doesn’t take itself too seriously. “I Met a Girl” is next, and it works better on the album; it’s a simple love song about just this–meeting a girl and being infatuated with her. Once again, though the lyrics could be better, they are respectful and simple, and this is the type of song that could do well on radio. The thing which impresses me most with this half of the EP is how country it sounds; this is the half with songs that could be successful singles, and yet Morgan stays very country and makes his approach quite clear.

However, the weakness with the front half of the EP is the lyricism. The songs are solid, but nothing holds my attention. “Lonesomeville,” the only song co-written by William Michael Morgan, changes this. Here we have a simple, traditional country heartbreak song; the narrator is living in Lonesomeville and missing a woman who left. It’s something a thousand country songs have said before, but at the same time, this simplicity and honesty is lost to us in 2016. It’s the emotion of George Strait and Alan Jackson, simple and relatable to listeners everywhere. This simplicity is present again in “Cheap Cologne,” in which the narrator lies in bed while his woman is out at a bar, probably cheating–“She don’t smoke cigarettes, and I don’t wear cheap cologne.” This reminds me stylistically of something Keith Whitley might have sung in the late 80s, steeped in steel guitar but looking ahead to more modern country. The EP closes with “Backseat Driver,” a song about a father sending his son off with “a Bible on the dash and a map tucked in the door, I can’t be your backseat driver anymore.” This song is more modern-sounding, but the lyrics here are very strong and make it a standout.

This EP is all we have to go on with William Michael Morgan, and it’s not the best way to form an opinion of an artist, but Morgan shows a lot of potential. The strengths are his country voice and commitment to a more traditional sound. We need people like Morgan, who will sound traditional but who can bring that sound into the mainstream with simplicity and honesty. There are much better albums, and this EP certainly has its flaws, mainly the lyrics. However, William Michael Morgan is one of the bright spots in mainstream country music, and we can be thankful for another voice in the fight to take country back. I’ll be looking forward to a full-length album from him!

Listen to EP