I’ve had the pleasure of writing about Whitey Morgan since 2008 when he was just a wet behind the ears unsigned artist out of Flint, Michigan. Since then he has been picked up by Bloodshot Records who rereleased his debut album, Honky Tonks and Cheap Hotels, as well as it’s self-titled follow-up. Well, Bloodshot might be gone but Whitey has pumped out a new album on his own imprint and it is, unquestionably, the best material he has released to date (read: Bloodshot; you done fucked up).
Sonic Ranch is 40 minutes of pure late 70’s/early 80’s country bliss. The album opens with a Whitey original called “Me And The Whiskey” a honky tonking cautionary tale of failed love and finding comfort in booze. A song that, ultimately, sets the tone for the entire album. A tone any Whitey fan is familiar with but it’s nice to hear that little has changed right out of the gate. From there the album heads into some covers. Townes Van Zandt struck gold on the first song he ever wrote when he penned “Waiting Around To Die” and on the third track Whitey gives us his spin on it. The result is probably the best version of the song ever. He gives it a fitting vocal performance and a musical accompaniment that adds 4 shades of black to an already light bending dark song.
“Waiting Around To Die” is immediately followed by a cover of our man Scott H. Biram‘s “Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue.” While the song was one of the most country sounding songs in Scott’s catalog Whitey turns it into an instant honky tonk classic while keeping that Biram edge on it.
One of the most fun songs on the album is a Whitey original called “Ain’t Gonna Take It No More,” A song about a man who is having a seriously bad night. You could say the song is a modern take on Skynyrd’s “Gimmie Three Steps” and I mean that in the best way possible.
I read an interview where Whitey was talking about how much his singing has improved over the years and how proud he was of the vocals on Sonic Ranch. In the interview he cited “Leavin’ Again” as his proudest moment on the album and “Leavin’ Again” is about as good as classic country gets. Big instrumentation. Slide guitars. That orchestra like vocal production. It’s all there in spades and leaves you wondering if this is a song from 1980 or 2015. While I agree with Whitey that “Leavin’ Again” is a great song I think his best performance is saved for the final track; a cover of Tom T. Hall’s “That’s How I Got To Memphis.” A cover that falls nothing short of beautiful and might be the best song on the entire album.
Needless to say Sonic Ranch is Essential Listening and undoubtedly one of my Top 10 albums of the year.
If you follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook then you know that I decided (for reasons even unclear to myself) to participate in Sober February. Almost as if fate were cheering (or jeering) my decision, the day before I was to begin my 28 day sabbatical from my good buddy Bourbon, the new cd from Adam Lee & The Dead Horse Sound Company landed in my mailbox. With song titles like “Whiskey For Breakfast”, Wishful Drinking” and the title track, “When The Spirits Move Me”, I figured if I couldn’t drink I could do the next best thing, listen to people sing about drinking. And with that decision, the cd went to the car.
The album did not disappoint. From the opening track, “Drinking, Cheating, Loving and Leaving”, the album sounds exactly how you’d think it would, judging from the cover up above. It’s the very embodiment of what one might call “classic country”, with pedal steel crying out like it had to make the trip over the hot desert from their Arizona hometown to your ears. So if you like your country dusty and more suited for crackling 78’s than mp3’s, this album is, to steal a line from savingcountrymusic.com, two guns up.
It ain’t often you’ll find me writing about female country singers. The fact is most of the modern crop are out of Nashville and are little more than pop with a steel guitar or fiddle and them actually being called country, in any fashion, is an affront to the whole of true country music. None of the mini-skirt-with-a-cowboy-hat-pop-singing divas can hold a fucking candle to Patsy, Dolly or Linda! Hell they are not even worthy of tuning the guitars of those lovely ladies. However once in a while a girl comes along that gets what country is about this time it’s Leyla Fences and to top it off she’s Red Dirt to the core.
I almost didn’t listen to this album due to my feelings expressed in the above mini-rant but I did and I glad of it. Not a single song on Liars, Cheats & Fools sounds like it could be a “crossover hit”. Instead of trying to sound like anything that you might hear on the radio today Leyla Fences has given us an album that opens with a steel guitar filled honky tonk song that while written from a woman’s perspective could have the roles reversed and not sound out of place on a Merle Haggard album from back in the day and certainly one worthy of putting her right beside Dolly Parton or Linda Rondstadt on a compilation. (I meant that Merle thing as a compliment by the way.) She flaunts her Texas accent and writes lyrics that put her firmly with Whitey Morgan in the Oh-My-Fucking-God-I-Can’t-Believe-Anyone-Is-Still-Making-Real-Honky-Tonk-These-Days category. It was released on my birthday this year and I promise you it’s the real deal. If you like music that makes you want to find a sawdust covered floor, a bottle of whiskey and pretty girl or cowboy to swing around for a few songs then this one is for you. It’s Essential Listening as far as I am concerned. In fact I would kill to see Leyla on tour opening for Whitey Morgan and the ’78s. I would so be sleeping in my truck that night…
For the last two weeks I have been six feet under at work. I mean I have been there between nine and eleven hours a day and not able to take lunch, save eating at my desk, much less find time to post about the cool shit I have found. In the middle of all this I got a text from Jeremy Steding that he was playing a free show at the The Armadillo Palace with Mike Kelly. As far as shows go it was an early show so I wrapped up what I could and bailed out of work with the knowledge that I would be playing catch up the next day but that my need to decompress was more important than not adding a few more inches to the hole I was already buried in. I was not wrong.
The show was just Jeremy and Mike trading acoustic songs which was just the sort of thing I needed. Mind you I didn’t know I needed it until Jeremy texted me a couple of hours before the show. Now you may remember my posts (album review and live show) on Jeremy from a while back and he didn’t disappoint. The boy is a ham on stage and obviously loves what he is doing. He played a few songs off his upcoming album and they proved everything I have said about him in the past. He is an amazing songwriter and his talents are only growing. I highly recommend dropping by his site, if you haven’t already, and availing yourself of his first two albums, which he offers for free. And I am not just saying that because he wouldn’t let me buy my own beer at the show!
Mike Kelly is a new face here on 9B and one I hope I get to write a lot more about. He has lived all over the US and is now one of Texas’ own. His songwriting is different from Jeremy’s but the differences made the show that much better. Mike writes about everything and I mean everything. From barroom ditties about the joys of all girls becoming pretty at 1:30 to songs about nearly dying written during his recent recovery from open heart surgery to love songs that only those of us who could drink for living, if it paid, will really understand. This kid runs the gambit and does it with style. My internet connection at home is, on a scale of one to ten for uploading, classified as SUCK so the videos I have of him belting out his tunes will have to wait until I can get them uploaded but suffice it to say this kid is the real deal. I will be reviewing his latest release very soon but I will give you a little preview here…
In closing this show, in a honky tonk only Texas could create, was a just what this cowboy needed to get through a couple of week of hell at work. I can’t thank these boys enough for inviting me out and, shockingly, putting me on their tab. These guys love their fans as much as they love playing their music and in the country music scene that’s something you don’t see that much anymore. I did talk Jeremy into recording a 9B exclusive after the show. Mike was going to but time ran short and the venue was playing their canned music pretty loud so we agreed I’d get an exclusive from him next time he was in town. I hope you enjoy!
I remember one summer evening down in Corpus Christi with one of the psychos I dated between my first wife walking out on me and finding the amazing angel that wears my ring today. We had driven down to see her birth parents and the engine in the shitty little car I was driving had burned up, I mean glowing red manifold kind of burned up, with nary a warning light on the dash so I was stuck there. Now there are worse places to be stuck for sure but it still wasn’t great. My psycho was off with some dude on a Harley and had been since about four hours after we got there. I was sleeping on a kids bunk bed and trying to ignore the ever present smell of pot that permeated even the walls. I was, too say the least, not a happy camper. So in an effort to clear my head I started fiddling with the FM radio part of the cheap clock beside the bed. What I found was a radio show playing Texas Country/Red Dirt and talking about the artists. The second song was “Raise Hell, Drink Beer” by Eleven Hundred Springs and later on in the show, it was a much smaller genre at the time, they played “Long Haired Hippie Freaks”. Needless to say I was hooked. I was also inspired to hike nearly two miles to the store and pick up rations and by rations I mean a twelve pack of Lone Star longnecks. So between the music and beer I was able to make it through the two days it took to get my old man to come get my ass.
Now while that story took more telling than I thought it would that’s how I first heard of Eleven Hundred Springs and since it fits the title of the album I figure it’s alright. Suffice it to day those long haired hippie freaks are back with an album full of full on honky tonk that would make Hank Williams and Bob Wills proud. Eleven Hundred Springs sings about drinking and cryin’ in your drink, leavin’ and gettin’ left, and everything in between. They don’t always stick to traditional “country” topics but they always make sure the music is pure and they succeed. This Crazy Life is one of their best albums to date. There’s not a track on here that wouldn’t be at home on a jukebox in a dive with sawdust on the floor and there’s a couple that might even inspire someone to a higher level of drunk and quite possibly disorderly. It’s a given that this one is Essential Listening. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a steel guitar but this album and it’s twang sets me in a mood that I particularly like and right now it’s my favorite thing on my playlist. There’s not often a waltz that doesn’t make me want to slide these old Justin’s around a floor with a pretty girl on my arm but I am not sure I could manage it to the too-close-to-home lyrics on “The OG Blues” but I am damn sure I could raise a toast to Tiger Woods, Britney Spears and all of their ilk to the refrain of “Great American Trainwreck”. Before I go running off and start talking about every song on this thing let me wrap up here and let the music speak for itself.