Quietly, stealthily, some of country music’s major labels are starting to retool with very young, and very country performing talent. Whether they’re hedging their bets, or hoping for a hard country resurgence, Mo Pitney is not just an anomaly anymore, he is one of a number of traditional-leaning performers being groomed for what may be the next big movement in country after the current R&B disco craze invariably crashes.
William Michael Morgan is a 22-year-old singer and songwriter from Vicksburg, Mississippi. He started his first country band in 9th grade with a bunch of middle-aged country players, and would gig regularly at honky tonks in town. “The great thing about finding those guys who were older than me is they all loved the same kind of music I did and we just blended so well,” Morgan says, citing Merle Haggard, George Jones, and Keith Whitley as influences. “I was lucky enough to have a steel guitar player all those years, and I just fell in love with that sound.”
After school Morgan worked as a roofer and a cashier at the Piggly Wiggly, but ever since he was 16-year-old, he would travel to Nashville to write. He moved to town permanently when he turned 18, and on September 5th found himself standing in the center of the hallowed Grand Ole Opry stage making his debut with a song called “I Met A Girl.”
I’d heard the studio version of this song a few times before, and it was intriguing in the way it was emanating from an artist singed to Warner Music Nashville, and in some respects made you feel the way you did when you first heard Randy Travis. But as per normal with mainstream Nashville singles, the slickness bore the hallmarks that warn you that no matter how promising, Music Row eventually figures out how to screw everything up. It didn’t help that when you started digging deeper into this song you found out the news that’s like traditional country Kryptonite: Sam Hunt is actually one of the co-writers along with Shane McAnally and Trevor Rosen from Old Dominion.
However this isn’t unusual in itself. When Sam Hunt first came to town, he was known as a quality songwriter, even in the traditional realm. Quite likely this song was left on the cutting house floor when Hunt was putting together his debut album with producer Shane McAnally, and Morgan did what many of the greatest traditionalists have done over the years: recognize gold when they hear it, and know how to make a song their own.
Despite some of the dryness of the studio version and whose name shows up in the songwriting credits, it was William Michael Morgan’s performance of the song at the Grand Ole Opry than won me over. The way he holds himself, and the passion in the performance gave me the assurance that my eyes weren’t seeing an illusion. It reminds you that it’s not always what is said in country music, but how you say it. Morgan needs no catchy melody to make “I Met A Girl” work. You get lost in the enveloping cadence of the chorus until you find yourself reminiscing over moments when a significant other once had you so nervous and excited you though your heart would bust its seams.
“I Met A Girl” is a classic country tune in style and approach, very mid to late 80’s if you had to assign it to an era, but with a sway and message that is timeless.
When you’re at your lowest point, there’s only one direction to go. Maybe how we talk about the “Class of ’89” today, future generations will talk about the “Class of 2015”: Chris Stapleton, Mo Pitney, William Michael Morgan, and others who are infiltrating the system and could change the paradigm. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s just sit back and enjoy this song for now.