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.