Review by Roger Sharman
Release date: 26th October 2018
The 5th studio album from Michigan’s finest, Whitey Morgan and the 78s ‘Hard Times & White Lines’ hit the shelves last week. Whitey and the boys have firmly established themselves as one of the hardest working Honky Tonk bands in country music. They frequently play over a hundred and fifty gigs a year. Touring is their bread & butter. The album was recorded at the Sonic Ranch Studio in Tornillo, Texas & self- produced similarly to 2015’s ‘Sonic Ranch’ album.
This album, like previously successful formulas, stays true to the classic outlaw sound of Waylon & Merle. But, it sounds like a Whitey Morgan album. Whitey said recently in an interview that they wanted it to be a Whitey album. The band line-up has remained the same, Joey Spina on guitar, Brett Robinson on pedal steel, Alex Lyon on bass, & Eric Savage on drums.
Earlier in the summer, when Cody Jinks released ‘Lifers’ I heard a lot of murmurs initially from fans saying that it was too commercial in the whole & that they were worried Cody was selling out. I didn’t agree with that assessment, I don’t want my favourite artists to get stale, I believe that if you keep churning out the same sound that’s what happens eventually (as it turns out, with a few more plays the Cody doubters seemed to have changed their thinking). You don’t need to change your sound entirely, but there has to be some kind of progression.
I believe that Whitey has achieved that minor evolution with this record. Whilst appeasing existing fans, I think he’ll be gaining some new ones. It definitely seems gentler vocally for the most part & lyrically stronger, with co-writers such as Ward Davis & Travis Meadows this should be no surprise. Whitey’s vocals remain unmistakeable throughout though.
The album opener ‘Honky Tonk Hell’ is a grey tale about the temptations that lay behind the doors of a Honky Tonk. This track contains some exceptional fiddle playing that really adds to the whole emotion of the song in the way that only a fiddle can.
‘Bourbon & the Blues’ & ‘Around Here’ are typical Whitey Morgan and the 78’s drinking songs that will have you nodding and singing along as if you were sitting at the bar with your buddies listening to this playing on the Jukebox.
The single ‘What am I supposed to do’ isn’t typically Morgan, the sound and the song-writing, reminds me of Chris Knight, which is not a bad thing. It’s a song about the plight of the blue-collar worker in the auto industry, written by Detroit native Don Duprie, but relevant to the whole state of Michigan.
Another single, ZZ Top’s ‘Just Got Paid’ gets a hard makeover. The searing guitar remains, but Whitey puts his own country stamp on it, and it works. I actually prefer this to the original, which is a lot more bluesy but lacks that chugging, thumping bassline featured in this version.
Hard times and White Lines certainly contain two halves, those up to ‘Just Got Paid’ being more a bit more typical Whitey Morgan and the 78’s, drinking songs, rowdy Honky Tonkers. Then the more self-reflective second half, a more content with where he is in life right now, less growling and snarling Whitey.
The cover of Dale Watson’s ‘Carryin’ on’ is one of my favourite tracks of the album. It seems as if it’s a moment of self-reflection. “crashing into 40/ might better think about growin’up/ you got a wife and kids that lean on ya/ brother, are you strong enough?”. Whitey has moved out to California and has cut down a lot on his partying.
‘Fiddler’s Inn’ is another example of that softer, seemingly almost more mature sound. I love the fiddle in this song.
‘Tired of the Rain’ could easily be a George Jones song. Sat here listening to it, I’m just seeing the Possum sing it in my mind.
‘Wild & Reckless’ finishes of the album again in an introspective mood.
All in all, I wouldn’t say this Album is an instant classic in the way that ‘Sonic Ranch’ or the ‘Whitey Morgan and the 78’s’ albums were. This is solid and there’s a difference in the lyrics, and in the emotional ride that this record takes you on. I think this one needs more time to hit home, but it’s certainly not a disappointment!