Whitey Morgan and the 78's
Whitey Morgan may hail from Flint, MI, but his sound comes from deep in Texas nearly 40 years ago. Morgan sounds an awful lot like outlaw country, specifically Waylon Jennings. From the opening bars, Morgan transports us back to another time and place. Characters wander in and out of songs and bars; they are imperfect on the surface and deeply flawed on the inside. In fact, whiskey is a character in its own right, sometimes helping and other times hurting the lying, cheating and stealing men and women inhabiting trucks, apartments and honky-tonks.
If you have heard any outlaw country: Waylon, Willie, Merle, Jerry Jeff, etc., you can imagine what Whitey Morgan and the 78’s sound like; guitar-based country and western punctuated by Nashville guitar leads and a river of pedal steel shimmering between Whitey’s vocals. Even redemptive characters are still flawed as in opener, Me and the Whiskey, “I gave up on runnin’ ‘round / She gave up on me / I gave up all the cocaine / Now it’s just me and the whiskey.” Sonic Ranch’s 10 songs leave me wanting more. There are eight originals and two carefully chosen covers: Townes Van Zandt’s Waitin’ ‘Round to Die and Tom T. Hall’s That’s How I Got to Memphis. Each cover is artfully done and not too obvious a choice given how much he sounds like Waylon.
Lilly Hyatt comes to songwriting honestly, having been raised by songwriting legend John Hyatt, and alludes to him on mid-album track, Somebody’s Daughter. Royal Blue is Lilly Hyatt’s second full-length album and it comes with an edge. There are heartache, heartbreak and heartfelt lyrics throughout, but Hyatt’s songs have an angst to them that works against the prettiness on the album’s cover. People are much more likely to peel out, hit the highway and run toward a new problem than sit around and try to fix the one they are in now as in Jesus Would’ve Let Me Pick the Restaurant.
Hyatt is hard to pin to just one genre. While most songs echo with some sort of 1970’s country, there are synths that echo the 1980s and guitar grunge reminiscent of the 1990s. It is as if Hyatt went through the bargain bin of her neighborhood record store and picked out the best sounds from here and there. Part of that mash-up of sounds was planned as Hyatt recorded in Nashville on analog equipment with indie rock producer Adam Landry. It is unlikely any of these songs will become standard covers, but she builds a nice base to keep developing her songwriting craft. I am hoping that future albums hone the sound she has crafted here by selectively omitting sounds rather than picking up every instrument in the studio.