There comes a time in every artists musical career where they begin to realize that they want to record music THEY want to record rather than what their label wants. This is mostly a result of artists eventually being cast aside by radio as has beens or “old geezers”. It’s often got nothing to do with talent, just an unfortunate cycle that has existed in country music, hell, every genre of music since the beginning.
It’s usually a slow turn as well. Most artists go from scoring consistent hits to realizing those hits have been coming in less and less. That usually transpires into that said artist releasing a song that not only panders to radio but is also embarrassing for that artist’s legacy. For some artists, it could stop right there, but for some artists there’s a chance at redemption.
Craig Morgan is an artist that fits the above description pretty well. Morgan has been around in country music for more than fifteen years now (he debuted in 2000 with his self-titled album). While he’s never been the biggest hit-maker, he’s made some pretty consistent appearances on the charts, bring attention to himself due to his more neo-traditional leanings. Of course, the tides of mainstream country music are always changing as labels look for the next trend, and in 2012 Craig Morgan decided to release a song called “Corn Star” which well……oh look at the title. Do I really have to explain this one? Anyway, the song bombed on the charts and obviously made Craig realize that trendy game wasn’t a game he could play anymore.
The biggest improvement that comes with this album as opposed to past Craig Morgan albums is the instrumentation and production. I stated before that Craig has always leaned more towards neo-traditional country than most mainstream solo male country artists and this album is no exception. It’s a sound that he’s gotten away from somewhat on recent albums. There’s some truly excellent sounding songs here such as “Hearts I Leave Behind”, “Nowhere Without You”, “I’m That Country” (despite an eye-rolling theme which I’ll get to soon), and “Remind Me Why I’m Crazy” which are all stone-cold country songs accompanied by the pleasing sounds of steel guitars and fiddles. It’s coupled with the fact that Craig has always had a voice that suits that style of country music very well. “Hearts I Leave Behind” finds Craig teaming up with Christian singer Mac Powell to sing about how no matter who you are, you’ll always live in the hearts of loved ones you leave behind. It’s pretty much the message that “When I’m Gone” is trying to go for, only better. “Nowhere Without You” and “Remind Me Why I’m Crazy” honestly could have come out of the 90’s era of country music. The former is an ode to Craig’s wife while the latter is another heartbreak song which finds a man once again haunted by an old lover. It’s all summed up best by the lyric, “Then your memory drops by to remind me why I’m crazy”. It’s the best song on the album and also another great song for 2016.
Even more contemporary offerings such as “Living On The Memories”, “Country Side Of Heaven”, and “When I’m Gone” thanks to sincere lyrics and a great vocal performance. “Living On The Memories” goes for a darker sound that fits the theme of living night after night on nothing but memories of a former love. “Country Side Of Heaven” is accompanied by fiddle, mandolin, and banjo while talking of what the actual country side of heaven looks like. It’s a bit corny admittedly but it’s still a good song, especially with the subtle gospel choir towards the end (also, Eric Paslay covered this on his 2014 debut album).
Of course, the most noticeable problems with this album lie in the lyrics and themes. Craig has always had a tendency to sing songs about how great the country lifestyle and I don’t mind that. I just mind when artists use it to explain why they’re superior to others, which admittedly happens on a few tracks. “A Whole Lot More To Me” and “I’m That Country” are perfect examples of this despite both having great sounds to them. “All Cried Out” also sticks out as being that song that Craig’s label may throw out there as a last ditch effort to try and score a radio hit while “I Can’t Wait To Stay” is your cliché “my small town is great” song.
It’s completely understandable why some wouldn’t care for this album. Craig’s voice has always been known to be a polarizing factor as to whether or not one will enjoy his music. But for me, this album was a pleasant surprise. Parts of it see Craig at his absolute best while other parts are pretty good as well. Maybe I’m giving it more credit than it deserves but you know what? I’m on board with this, and I think others could be as well.
Best Tracks: “Living On The Memories”, “Hearts I Leave Behind (w/ Mac Powell)”, “Remind Me Why I’m Crazy”