I’ve been waiting for months to write a review for this album. I fortunately received an early copy of this album and I’ve been listening to it ever since. When I hear something this great, I want to tell everyone about it. Now I finally can. Before I even write the review I’m just going to tell you right now: go buy Whitey Morgan’s Sonic Ranch. When I alluded to there being at least one album of the year candidate being released in May, many of you assumed I was referring to Chris Stapleton’s Traveller album. Well that wasn’t it, as that surprised me. This is the album I was referring to. Morgan, a Flint, Michigan native, along with his band the 78s delivered an album that even surpasses Traveller in my mind. It’s that damn great. This is music straight out of the Waylon Jennings era of country music. I think you get the picture, so without further I’m going to break down this phenomenal album the best I can, even though I know my words won’t do it justice.
Sonic Ranch starts off with “Me and the Whiskey,” which immediately establishes the theme of this album: gritty, booze drenched heartache and pain. In this song the man has given up on pretty much everything, from God to his mom to cocaine. It’s now just him and his whiskey as he drinks everything away. It’s a great song to kick off this album and prepares the listener for the rest of the album experience. Morgan gives us pure, honky tonk country goodness with “LowDown on the Backstreets.” Really the entire album is honky-tonk country, but this one sticks out to me because of its brilliant instrumentation. The steel guitar and piano are perfect in this song. Next is the Townes Van Zandt penned “Waitin’ Round To Die.” Morgan does the famous Texas songwriter justice in this cover and fits perfectly with the theme of the album. The song tells the story of a man who’s lived a hard life. This includes growing up with separated parents, a woman stealing all of his money and getting thrown into prison for two years. When he does get out his only friend now is codeine, which he says doesn’t drink, smoke or lie to him like everyone else in his life. It’s an emotional song that you really need to hear for yourself.
Even though it’s hard to pick a favorite on an album as good as this one, “Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue” stands out a little more for me than the rest. Everything in this song works so well together that I liken it to a well-oiled machine. You couldn’t make it any better. The punctuating moment of this song is when Whitey croons out, “Well I’m still drunk, still blue, I’m still all fucked up over you/I’m still stoned, I’m still alone.” It really helps paint the picture of a heartbroken man drinking himself silly. It may seem like a simple song, but the emotions and instrumentation really make this song special. “Leavin’ Again” is about a man who continues to watch his woman leave him over and over again. It tears him up so much that he “shakes and cries like a child.” He admits he hasn’t been his best, but he still wants another chance. It’s a fantastic heartbreak song that expresses the emotion of it so well.
The next song, “Goin’ Down Rock,” seems to be the epilogue to “Leavin’ Again.” The man is basically sleeping around and refuses to go down unless he “goes down rocking.” Basically he wants to live life as hard as possible and won’t go down unless he’s doing it full throttle. Once again the steel guitars are just fantastic. The quietest track on the album is “Good Timin’ Man,” a song about a man struggling to be his normal self due to his alcohol and relationship problems. He’s able to put on the façade when he’s in front of everyone, but deep down he’s hurting. The choice of alternating between an acoustic guitar and pedal steel guitar throughout is great. “Drunken Nights in the City” sets the scene of the grimy and seedy underbelly of cities across America. Morgan warns of shady characters and crooks ready to “take you for more than you know.” When Morgan seeks redemption from a preacher, the preacher tells him he’s been on the streets far too long. In other words, he’s broke beyond repair, as the streets have become a part of him. Again Morgan does a brilliant job of painting the scene in listeners’ heads.
The penultimate song on the album, “Ain’t Gonna Take It Anymore,” is about a man who catches flack from his woman about screwing around and finding some incriminating stuff on his phone. Fed up, the man sets out into town with a bottle of whiskey in his hand to drink her away. While at the bar he finds a woman whose beauty strikes him, but that’s when he notices her husband looking at him in a drunken stupor, who warns him to get the hell out of there. That’s when the man realizes he’s bitten off more than he can chew and heads home, where he should have stayed in the first place. It’s a self-deprecating song with the right mix of humor and reality. Sonic Ranch closes out with “That’s How I Got To Memphis,” the story of how a man ended up in Memphis because he followed his love there. She ended up leaving, but he doesn’t regret following his heart. He still loves her and wants to find her to tell her this, as he seems to be determined to go wherever to win her heart. It’s a touching love song that beautifully caps off the album.
What makes this album stand out above a lot of other country albums released so far is how cohesive and tight-knit everything is on this album. The instrumentation and the production is flat-out perfect. The lyrics are emotional and tell brilliant stories throughout it. Morgan’s bellowing voice reminds me of a lot of Waylon Jennings and Sturgill Simpson, yet Whitey is much more gruff and gritty giving it a different texture compared to the likes of Jennings and Simpson. The album is the exact right length of 10 songs. It leaves no room for unnecessary filler that can bring the quality down. It’s straight, no-holds barred, outlaw-style country music that will leave you wanting more. This is the kind of album that will make people take notice of Whitey Morgan and put him on the radar of country music fans everywhere. This is an artist and album everyone needs to hear. Sonic Ranch right now is one of the top candidates for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year. There are very few country albums better than this one.
For those who collect vinyl, you can purchase this album in three different colors (standard black, white, orange) off of Whitey’s website right here.