You know, of all the parts of my reviews that I consider to be the hardest to make, it’s these little preludes by about a mile and a half. It either involves me trying to dig up some background information on the artist or band that I’m covering (which can be a barrel of monkeys sometimes, especially for lesser known indie acts), or it could even involve me familiarizing myself with an act’s backlog to better prepare myself for their style.
I have to ask though, is there really any need to do that with William Michael Morgan? Let’s face it, if you read this blog, you’re not holding off on listening to this until you’ve heard my opinion. Most people have already heard this album countless times and have absorbed it enough to the point where they’re probably better suited to cover this than I am. Hey, it’s no wonder this album has caught so much attention. After all, to many people, William Michael Morgan is the savior that mainstream country music needs. Now, a year ago I would have easily been one of those people rallying around anyone who wanted to save country music. At this point however, I don’t give a damn about how country an artist is or isn’t. At the end of the day, I’m on the hunt for good music, and despite me really liking Morgan’s self-titled EP back when I covered it in March, I still found some issues with it in the writing. So what did I think of his newest album, Vinyl anyway huh? Did I hear those issues smoothed out or was this an utter disappointment?
Well believe it or not, a lot of what makes this album great is William Michael Morgan himself. Look, I know it’s going to sound cliché saying this but there’s no other way to describe it. Morgan’s voice was made for country music. Going further, it was made for this style of country music. Sure, he could use a little more energy on funner songs like “Beer Drinker”, “Somethin’ To Drink About”, or “People Like Me”, but where he really shines are on the slower, gentler songs on this album. “I Met A Girl”, “Spend It All On You”, “I Know Who He Is”, and “Lonesomeville” quite simply all work in the vocal department thanks to William’s natural talent as a singer. Again, not much to say here other than that. His vocals really do carry a lot of the material here.
When it comes to the sound, well do I even have to really tell you guys about this? Of course it’s loaded with plenty of lush instrumentation complete with steel guitar, fiddles, acoustic guitar, banjo and mandolin. Heck, the EP from this March pretty much gave us all an indication of what the coming album would sound like. I think the only question there was to ask afterwards was, “well, are there any moments where he goes a little modern or sways from this niche of traditional country music?” Well, the answer is no. There are no drum machines or uses of auto-tune anywhere. Sure, “Somethin’ To Drink About” is a tad more modern and harder edged than the rest of these songs, but it’s not terrible, even if it does feel like the outlier of this album. “Spend It All On You” opts more for more soulful tones to surprisingly pretty good results. This track kind of surprised me.
And yes, I’m getting to the sound you all want to hear about. The neo-traditional goodness representative of the 90’s and early to mid 2000’s. Look, if you want an album that’s breaking down the barriers of what defines country music or are even looking for something that’s evolving the genre, well, you’re not going to find it here. What you are going to find however is an album that’s pivoting back into a sound that the mainstream really does need right now. “Missing” sounds like it could have been on any of George Strait’s albums and the steel guitar on “I Know Who He Is” really does a lot to highlight the melancholy feel of that song. Elsewhere, the slow burn of “Lonesomeville” combined with the fiddle was a treat to my ears and I also really enjoyed the driving motion of “Back Seat Driver”. Of course, I could go on and on about the sound all day. What did I say before though? It doesn’t matter if you’re country or not. The music itself has to overall be good. The vocals and sound check off nicely, but what about our lyrics and themes?
Well this is where this review gets a bit tricky folks. You see, unlike fellow neo-traditional country star Jon Pardi’s album earlier this year, there are no moments where the writing is noticeably bad. In fact, the worst you can really do on this album is average. However, I think where I’m going with this is that the writing can feel a little paint-by-the-numbers too many times on this album. I wasn’t really a fan of the repetition and rhyming of the word “girl” with “girl” on “Vinyl” back when I reviewed his EP and songs like “Beer Drinker” and “Somethin’ To Drink About” just really feel like they could have been cut from this album, especially when the latter cut pulls from clichés to get the job done. “I Met A Girl” is certainly a song that needs to be patted on the back for helping to get this album out in the first place, but I also can’t help but feel it’s one of the weaker tracks on this album due to its lackluster lyricism as well.
Of course, that’s not to insinuate that there aren’t any moments where the writing doesn’t show some real excellence and nuance. “Missing” is my favorite song here by a mile mostly because of the overall framing of the song. The narrator just needs to get away from everything because he just needs time to himself. It doesn’t have to mean he’s depressed or going through any sort of phase, he just needs to get away. I think why it works so damn well for me is because I can relate to it perfectly. Then you have the solo Casey Beathard written “I Know Who He Is” which is a damn gut puncher of a song that deals with a man dealing with his father battling Alzheimer’s. Just like “Missing”, I can appreciate the little details in this song such as not wanting to think about the severity of his father’s illness and instead just being thankful to still have him around. As someone who’s grandfather suffered a stroke six years ago, I can relate to that sentiment. Like I mentioned before, William really knows how to sell these songs. They’re two of my favorites of the year.
Elsewhere, “Cheap Cologne” is a pretty well written cheating song. Heck, I enjoyed it back when I covered the EP and I still do. “Back Seat Driver” is certainly a song I can relate to at this point in my life considering that I’m only in my sophomore year of college, and while “People Like Me” is definitely corny as all hell, it’s played with enough sincerity and cornball innocence to work for me.
Grading this album as a whole is frustrating for me. On one hand, let me stress that we need guys like William Michael Morgan in the mainstream pumping out solid country albums like Vinyl. Seriously, it’s been awhile since we’ve had a mainstream album that didn’t feel violated or tinkered with to pander to an audience. On the other hand, I’m not going to lie. Vinyl is far from a perfect album, and ultimately while the writing does show flashes of greatness, it’s also what holds this album back as well. But this is a damn solid listen, and easily getting a recommendation from me. I admit, on some level this album just hits me in my country music sweet spot. Keep in mind as well, these are only my thoughts and what I think of this album. If you more to like or dislike I totally understand. Overall though I have to say folks, this album definitely grows on you more and more with every listen. While genre lines aren’t the most important things to me these days, it’s nice to hear a guy who at least sounds like he belongs in the country format. Don’t miss out on this.
Worst Song: “Somethin’ To Drink About”