A traditional revival in mainstream/radio country is something that many fans have been craving for quite a while. Of course traditional country has never really died in the broader sense for anyone who expands their listening beyond the radio, but that’s a topic for a different day. For those who limit themselves to what country radio and the major labels churn out, there’s definitely been a lack of traditional country in the last five years. When Chris Stapleton had his breakout night at the 2015 CMA Awards and the subsequent skyrocketing of his popularity afterwards, it prompted a lot of labels to re-examine themselves and prioritize putting out their own traditional country artists. After all “the industry propagates things it stands to benefit from.” Enter Warner Nashville artist William Michael Morgan. The traditional country artist from Vicksburg, Mississippi has been one of the breakout stars of the genre this year with his single “I Met A Girl.” His breakout has made a lot of traditional country fans excited about his potential and possibilities, especially since his music is being heard on the radio. To say his debut album Vinyl has been highly anticipated by these fans is an understatement. I myself have been looking forward to it too. So I dove headfirst into this album and one thing for certain from the very first listen is there’s definitely a palpable sound of traditional country throughout it.
Vinyl kicks off with “People Like Me,” an upbeat tune about the working man. It’s about the person who doesn’t go to college, doesn’t have a filter on their mouth and bust their backs working nine to five everyday. While the sentiment of the song is in the right place, the whole song paints an us vs them theme that kind of rubs me the wrong way. Not to mention it’s a tired trope I’ve heard numerous times and done better. It’s just hard to get much out of a generic theme like this. The instrumentation is nice though, decidedly in that 90s country vein of rowdy and catchy that fans grew to love. Some pedal steel guitar plays in the album’s title track “Vinyl.” As you can guess from the title, the song revolves around vinyl, as the man compares his love for his woman to music on vinyl. Just like vinyl, he says his woman is the “old fashioned” type that you don’t see too many of anymore. This analogy works well enough and with vinyl’s popularity continuing to surge, it smartly appeals to a lot of people. It’s most likely the second single from the album, as it’s been getting a lot of airplay on Sirius XM’s The Highway for months.
“Missing” is undoubtedly one of the best tracks on the album. The song is about just going missing for a while, off to a place where the world can’t annoy you and getting away from the noise of everyday life. It’s a feeling we all experience. It’s just a simple theme, yet resonates so deeply because it’s a song rooted in real feelings that real people experience. The fiddles and steel guitar heard throughout are like a hot knife cutting through butter. The lead single of the album and Morgan’s first hit I’m sure of many, “I Met A Girl,” is next. The song is about a man meeting a girl (you could figure this out from the title) and the ways this girl make him feel. He’s obviously struck by her. That being said there isn’t a lot of meat to this song either. Then again with a first single you can’t expect something too deep and really this goes deeper than most debut singles. As many have heard already, Nashville pop artist Sam Hunt helped write it and I’m sure that will make your head spin if I just broke the news to you.
Following this is “Spend It All on You,” a song with a sort of lingering tone. It’s about a man wanting save up all of his time to spend it with the love of his life. Again just like “People Like Me,” this song just doesn’t do much for me. When I say it has a lingering tone, I don’t just refer to the production and instrumentation. The lyrics are pretty generic and the song feels like it drags on too long, even though it clocks in just over three and a half minutes. For a romantic love song, I think it tries too hard to convey this feeling. “Beer Drinker” is what you would call one of the most “radio friendly” songs on Vinyl. The song is about shouting out all of the hard-working people out there who bust their ass and finish it off with cold beers at the end of the week. It’s an ode to the working man. But while the lyrics err on the side of radio friendly, the instrumentation is still decidedly country. Think of this as a better, more country version of Lee Brice’s “Drinking Class.”
The deepest and best song on the album is hands down “I Know Who He Is.” Written by Casey Beathard, the song is about a man seeing his father suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and forgetting who he is. But the son reminds us that he remembers who he is and how important his father has been to him throughout his life. The song is a real tear-jerker having to listen to a son watching his father slowly fade away. Alzheimer’s disease is probably one of the scariest diseases someone has to watch their loved one suffer through and this song perfectly captures that feeling. This is followed up by another well-written love ballad, “Cheap Cologne.” Or I should say heartbreak ballad, as the song is about a man having a sneaking suspicion his woman is cheating on him. He can smell “the honky tonk in her hair” in the form of cigarettes and cheap cologne. Of course he doesn’t smoke nor wear cheap cologne. It’s pretty obvious she’s cheating, although it’s never clearly answered. This is another song I think would make a great choice to release as a single, as it’s not only strongly country, but the lyrics are catchy too.
“Somethin’ to Drink About” is another generic drinking song. That may be hard for some to admit, but it’s true. If you gave this song a more rock sound, it wouldn’t be out of place on a Jason Aldean album. There’s just nothing to remember about this song, as it comes off as filler. Fortunately this is followed by one of the best tracks on the album, “Lonesomeville.” If you’re looking at the title and instantly thinking of Joe Nichols’ #1 hit “Brokenheartsville,” well you’re going to think of it more when you hear the song. Just like that hit, this is your classic heartbreak, drinking country song. The man’s love has left and now he’s left alone to pick up the pieces of his broken heart. The songwriting is sharp and can really hit an emotional spot to some listeners. This is a great credit to the writers of the song: Morgan, Trent Tomlinson, Mark Sherill and Ash Underwood. The album concludes with “Back Seat Driver,” a song about a father dealing with his son growing up and moving out. The main focus is around the father giving pointers to his son on driving and making sure he’s prepared for anything. Of course this is beyond driving and about life in general, as he tells his son that he can’t be his back seat driver anymore (in life or in the car). While this theme will come off as saccharine to some, I think it will resonate with many younger listeners and connect with them in a big way. Overall it’s another pretty solid song from Morgan and a great way to close the album.
I have to be honest with you: William Michael Morgan’s Vinyl was kind of disappointing. While yes this album is without a doubt traditional country and features pedal steel and fiddle throughout, the lyrics are pretty lukewarm at multiple times. It’s what ultimately drags this album down for me, which is a shame because there are some truly great songs on it like “I Know Who He Is” and “Lonesomeville.” I think that’s something many tend to forget when it comes to major label artists and that is there’s still a great chance of major label writing, which can get derivative and monotonous. When I can point out multiple songs on this album that fit this description, that isn’t good. Despite this album’s flaws though I think it’s still a good album and a nice start for Morgan’s career. Vinyl does more things right than wrong and Morgan’s heart is certainly in the right place. The instrumentation is definitely one of the standout aspects of the album. Hopefully the lyrics can match it on the next one.
*parts of this review originally appeared in my review of Morgan’s self-titled EP*