If traditional-sounding country is ever going to return to the mainstream, it’s going to take young artists signed to major labels with the courage to adhere to their values and not compromise their sound in the face of the pressures and obligations that mainstream outlets put on them. Others may open the doors, but it will be up to artists like William Michael Morgan to step through. It will take a little pragmatism, and a lot of perseverance to make it happen, but for the first time in a while, there are artists poised on major label rosters to make an impact. Most all of the artist who show up to Nashville come with a purpose and a strong set of principles. It’s holding on to them that’s the trick.
Along with Mo Pitney, William Michel Morgan is one of the best hopes for a young traditionalist that could have an impact on the mainstream side. He’s got the voice, the style, and the temperament. Don’t think of Marty Stuart or Willie Nelson when the word “traditionalist” is used in reference to the Mississippi native. Think more of George Strait or Alan Jackson—straight laced with a clean Stetson and a starched shirt, and songs that are straightforward, simple, and honest. This debut 6-song EP is traditional country in style and sound cover to cover, and Morgan has that smooth voice and perfect control that’s ideal for country music, which is refreshing to hear coming from a 22-year-old.
Morgan surprised everyone by releasing a song partially penned by Sam Hunt as his first single that sounded like it was straight out of the mid 80’s traditional country resurgence. “I Met A Girl” was no Mona Lisa, but it showed a lot of promise from the young singer. If Morgan could take a Sam Hunt song and make it sound that good, what else could he do? Unfortunately the first song on this EP, “Vinyl,” sounds like it could be a dance club single converted to country. The term “vinyl” can have vintage connotations, as do some of the lyrics of the song, but saying “girl” in the lyrics a full ten times is something more akin to Florida Georgia Line than a full blown traditional country artist.
The second song on the EP “Beer Drinker” is not as bad as the title may make it seem, but just like saying “girl” at the end of every phrase, leaning on the term “beer” as a crutch is something we expect more from washed up Bro-Country acts. The song’s not bad when you think about it like a song George Strait would select as an album cut, but the premise that only beer drinkers are the ones that get things done is a little flimsy. It feels more like demographics pandering and trying to get blue collars pumping their fists as opposed to a solid, thought-out premise for a song. The lyrics of the first two songs on this EP start off less than ideal, even if the music itself is sweet to the ears.
But the album improves from there, working in much more favorable songwriting material. “Lonesomeville,” which is the only song on the EP Morgan co-wrote, may not be completely original, but falls much more in line with what you’d hope to hear from the young traditional country prospect. “Cheap Cologne” is also more of a mid 80’s smooth country sound and sentiment—a classic cheating song whose message is timeless. The metaphor may have been dragged a little too far with the last song “Back Seat Driver,” but it’s another fine selection from the project.
Debut EP’s are never ideal for attempting to determine completely what the sound and style of an artist will eventually settle in to, and this release is likely the precursor to a full-length LP to be released in the future, so some of our questions may be answered soon. Clearly with the first two songs “Vinyl” and “Beer Drinker,” producers were looking to release traditional-sounding country songs with enough lyrical signifiers to hopefully lure in modern day “country” fans. This might be the type of pragmatism that it takes to move country back in a more authentic direction. But it also may limit the ability for Morgan to resonate deeper among the traditional fans he needs to form his base. Meanwhile other songs on this EP like “Cheap Cologne” are what many fans have been waiting for from a young performer.
The promise of William Michael Morgan remains, and his style is undoubtedly country. But we will have to see how, and what direction the songwriting develops in, and if Morgan will step up to make more songwriting contributions, and see what other type of material is selected to work with his sound before we get the big picture on what William Michael Morgan will be, and what impact he might have on the effort to return some balance to the mainstream country space.
1 1/2 of 2 Guns Up (6.5 of 10)
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