Album Review – William Michael Morgan’s ‘Vinyl’

william-michael-morgan-vinyl

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.

Grade: 7/10

*parts of this review originally appeared in my review of Morgan’s self-titled EP*

The Hodgepodge: RIAA Certification, Streaming, and the Changing Face of Music Consumption

On Monday February 1, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) changed how the organization will certify albums and singles. The change reflects digital streams of songs and albums for an artist in addition to sales. Prior to the change, an album or song was certified Gold when 500,000 copies were sold, Platinum at 1,000,000, and Diamond at 10,000,000. With the change, the RIAA will take into account both video and audio streaming, and have decided that 1,500 streams is equal to 10 song sales or one album sale. Simple math then tells us that 750 million streams alone will earn an artist a Gold certification.

With the adjusted certification process, 17 albums achieved Gold or Platinum status on February 1. Three of the 17 albums were country albums: Brett Eldredge’s Bring You Back (Gold), Miranda Lambert’s Platinum (Platinum), and Sam Hunt’s Montevallo (2x Multi-Platinum).

From a business standpoint for the RIAA, this is a good move to keep with the changing tide of how consumers are listening to their music. Streaming is only growing and it’s important for music groups like the RIAA and Billboard to stay relevant with their reporting. However, reactions to the change have been mixed. Country artists are loving the news. One big challenger of the new rules is Top Dawg Entertainment’s, CEO Anthony Tiffith. TDE is the label for Kendrick Lamar, whose critically acclaimed album To Pimp a Butterfly has now been certified Platinum due to the inclusion of streaming. Tiffith tweeted that he won’t acknowledge the certification until old school album sales earn the album its Platinum rating.

One theory I have for the push back could be due to the low streaming payouts to artists/labels vs physical/digital album sales. Last April, The Guardian published an article with an infographic breaking down artist payouts among various streaming services in comparison to standard album sales. The infographic is organized to show how many units must be sold or streamed in order to achieve a monthly minimum wage income.

For instance (based on the numbers on the linked infographic), for an artist signed to a label to earn a monthly minimum wage from Spotify with a $0.0011/stream payout, there would need to be 1,117,021 streams for a monthly wage. At that rate, $1,228.72 is earned each month. And looking at RIAA’s rule of 1,500 streams per album sale, a streaming total of 1,117,021 is equal to about 744 albums sold (rounding down). By comparison, 744 albums sold per month via iTunes will earn a signed artist $1,711.20. And 744 albums per month sold physically in a retail store will be $2,053.44 for a signed artist.

Now these aren’t concrete numbers as to how streaming services directly compare to actual sales. Keep in mind that the numbers on the graphic are 10 months old, and the math I applied based on RIAA criteria may not be direct snapshots of how a company like Spotify may pay out an artist. Some of the numbers gathered from the article were assumed or generalized numbers based on typical business practices between labels and artists.

What this does give us, however, is a small baseline in which to judge a service like Spotify, arguably the most popular streaming service, in regards to actual album sales. I can understand a label CEO being against the inclusion of streaming in regards to albums sales when payouts from streaming are lower than album sales.

With the RIAA accepting streaming, it further solidifies the consumption mode of music, giving more importance to the notion of fair payouts. Streaming services are not going away, and as more and more music associations and organizations restructure themselves to include streaming, streaming needs to continue to fine tune itself to be accepted across the board. Streaming has a lot of push back from the music industry because they see the technology as a threat. But even cassettes scared the music industry back in the day.

For those against streaming, one bright spot is the resurgence of vinyl records. The growth of vinyl is nearly double than the growth in streaming subscriptions. Vinyl’s growth, aside from the novelty aspect, shows that consumers want physical copies of their music along with digital files. Never before have there been this many outlets to consume music. CDs, vinyl, digital downloads, radio, and streaming. Streaming’s skyrocketing popularity cannot be overlooked.

Like it or not, on-demand streaming has immersed itself into our musical culture. The impact streaming can have for an independent or budding artist is crucial. However manufactured his rise was, Kane Brown’s internet popularity earned him a deal with Sony. Maren Morris’ EP was an online only release, now she’s also signed with Sony and is getting the iHeartMedia On The Verge treatment.

Slowly we are seeing the industry adapt to streaming’s popularity. RIAA’s move to include streaming in album and single certifications is just another step in the long road ahead. I don’t think RIAA’s current rules are an absolution (nor do I think they’re perfect), and we may see them further adjusted to improve how the organization looks at streaming. Labels and radio are slowly looking into streaming and internet trends to capitalize on what’s popular with consumers. This is only the beginning of the music industry’s adaptation to streaming, and we may in fact be on the brink of a year in which we see major shifts in response to streaming’s popularity. There’s quite a bit to still work out on both ends of the spectrum, but I think major changes are on the horizon.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • The following albums are all being released tomorrow:
    • Dori Freeman‘s self-titled album
    • Lucinda Williams’ The Ghosts of Highway 20
    • Charles Kelley’s The Driver
    • Freakwater’s Scheherazade
    • The Infamous Stringdusters’ Ladies and Gentlemen
  • Addison Johnson‘s I’m Just a Song EP will be released on February 9th.
  • Cole Swindell announced his second album, You Should Be Here, will be released on May 6th.
  • Dreamer: A Tribute to Kent Finlay will be released on March 2nd, exactly one year after Finlay’s death. Finlay was a songwriter in Texas and owner of the Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos. He is credited with jump-starting the careers of George Strait, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Randy Rogers. Rogers will duet with Sunny Sweeney on the album, along with James McMurtry, William Clark Green, and many others covering Finlay-written songs in his honor.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Luckenbach, Texas” Waylon Jennings. Is there a better opening lyric than “The only two things in life that make it worth livin’ is guitars that tune good and firm feelin’ women”?

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

“Bullet with Butterfly Wings” Smashing Pumpkins. The Smashing Pumpkins just announced a new tour this week. A friend in high school made me a mix CD of her favorite Smashing Pumpkins songs and still listen to that mix quite a bit. I love this song.

Tweet of the Week

Stout’s record, Dust & Wind, was self recorded and released last September. You can listen and purchase to the album on Bandcamp.

YouTube Comment of the Week

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 10.57.21 AM

This was commented on the video of Jason Isbell’s performance of “Flagship” at the Grand Ole Opry. I completely agree with this! Isbell performed the song with his wife, Amanda Shires, playing her violin and providing great harmonies. Click on the link for the video of the performance.

Sturgill Simpson’s “Sugar Daddy” Will Be Theme Song for New HBO Series ‘Vinyl’

Sturgill

New Sturgill Simpson music is coming sooner than we imagined. And it’s coming via a television show. In an exclusive interview with Billboard, the new HBO series Vinyl, announced their soundtrack and plans for music on the show. The theme song is recorded by none other than Sturgill Simpson. The name of the track is “Sugar Daddy” and as the theme for the show, it will be heard weekly by its millions of viewers. It’s a huge opportunity for Simpson to gain an even bigger fan base. Music supervisor Randall Poster elaborated on why Simpson’s song was chosen as the theme in the interview:

As far as Simpson’s theme song, Poster says “we cast a wide net” to find the right tone. “It had to serve a larger purpose than something that was just episodic,” he says. “It’s not that it serves as a narrative. Sturgill just captured this spirit of rock and roll. It feels classic and contemporary.” 

What undoubtedly helped make this happen was the fact that Atlantic Records and Warner Brothers Records are helping release all of the music on the show. Simpson just recently signing Atlantic is what gave way for this opportunity. Another thing that helped Simpson was the show intends to help use this as a vehicle to introduce newer artists. Atlantic Records Group President of Film & Television Kevin Weaver says, “This is a vehicle for us to showcase new artists, no question.”

You’ll be able to hear Simpson’s track and the rest of first volume of the soundtrack for the show when it’s released on February 14 and it will be officially titled Vinyl: Music From the HBO Original Series – Volume 1. It will be released both physically and digitally. After this is released, every Friday there will be a digital EP with music for the upcoming show that Sunday. On the Friday preceding the season finale, a second volume of the soundtrack will be released both physically and digitally. And yes of course there will be releases in vinyl, as it’s only appropriate for a show called Vinyl. The only details involving this are that there will be both 7″ and 12″ releases on vinyl.

Here is the track listing, courtesy of Billboard:

1. Ty Taylor – “The World Is Yours”
2. David Johansen – “Personality Crisis”
3. Kaleo – “No Good”
4. Sturgill Simpson – “Sugar Daddy” (Theme from Vinyl)
5. Ruth Brown – “Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean”
6. Otis Redding – “Mr. Pitiful”
7. Dee Dee Warwick – “Suspicious Minds”
8. Mott the Hoople – “All The Way From Memphis”
9. David Johansen – “Stranded In The Jungle”
10. Chris Kenner – “I Like It Like That”
11. Ty Taylor – “Cha Cha Twist”
12. The Jimmy Castor Bunch – “It’s Just Begun”
13. Soda Machine – “Want Ads”
14. The Meters – “Hand Clapping Song”
15. Soda Machine – “Slippin’ Into Darkness”
16. Edgar Winter – “Frankenstein”
17. Nasty Bits – “Rotten Apple”
18. Foghat – “I Just Want To Make Love To You”

 

——-Update 2/11/16———–

You can now hear Sturgill Simpson’s “Sugar Daddy.” Check it out below!

The Hodgepodge: The Resurgence of Vinyl & Why I Love It

Record Player

It’s no secret that music sales have seen a dip in recent years. This is especially the case when it comes to albums. Unless your Taylor Swift, artists struggle to get albums sold and as a result more emphasis has been put on singles. Another reason singles have been getting more emphasis than albums is streaming is now the most popular way listeners consume music. In 2014, on-demand streaming, both video and audio, was up 54%. This was no surprise to me. What was a big surprise to me however was the other format that experienced a gain in 2014: vinyl. What? People still listen to vinyl I thought? Indeed they do as vinyl experienced a gain of 54% in sales in 2014. In 2014, 9.2 million vinyl was sold compared to 2013 when 6.1 million vinyl was sold. These were the only two format to experience gains in sales. Digital album sales and digital song sales were both down 9% and 12% respectively.

As a 22-year-old person, I only remember back to cassettes being a thing. And that was when I was really young. For the majority of my life music was consumed either via CD or through digital means. With vinyl experiencing its highest sales since 1991 (Soundtrack started tracking sales then), this resurgence both perplexed me and intrigued me. In an age where digital music was right at your finger tips I didn’t see the need for vinyl. I chalked this up to just hipsters being hipsters and told myself to just move on. But I couldn’t do that. I found myself still intrigued as to why people love vinyl. I noticed a lot of the artists I listen to put their music out in vinyl too. For me this was a strange and new format.

Now being a history buff I was well aware of vinyl and how it was the way music was put out decades before. I worked briefly with vinyl as a radio DJ at my alma mater. When I say it briefly I mean one time and then never again. It was so much easier just queuing everything up digitally. Even CDs were much easier to work with than vinyl. By the way kudos to DJs back in the 60s and 70s who had to spin vinyl on the radio. That wasn’t easy work. So the point is that was the only taste of vinyl I had in my life up to this point.

I began to research online about why people love vinyl and why people have begun collecting it again. The most common reasons I came across were the sound quality, actually owning the music and the album format. Nostalgia was another reason listed, but obviously that couldn’t apply to me. The sound quality reason is a pretty hotly debated topic among audiophiles and casual listeners. Some people swear up and down that the sound of vinyl is much better than the sound of digital. Others say the exact opposite. As for my take, it depends on a variety of factors, but mainly it comes down to the vinyl pressing quality and the quality of the device you play it on. For the most part though, I don’t sense a huge difference between the sound on digital and the sound on vinyl. Your experience may vary.

The other two reasons certainly appealed to me. As I’ve said numerous times here on Country Perspective, I’ve found myself buying more albums than singles now. I used to just buy singles solely, but now I hardly ever buy singles. It’s made me understand why Garth Brooks wants his music not to be sold individually. Most true artists want you to listen to the whole album and really you should have to listen to a whole album to understand a song. A perfect example of this is Kendrick Lamar’s new album To Pimp A Butterfly. Each song tells a different part of the story being told and you have to listen to it from beginning to end to fully grasp it. As for owning the music, I’ve always been strictly against stealing music online. I’ve always bought my music legally. But buying it digitally certainly isn’t the same as buying a physical album. It’s just another file on your computer.

So with this all in mind I dove into the world of vinyl. I only bought two albums at first to make sure I enjoyed the format enough to continue my collection. I made sure to buy two albums I love too, as they could always be nice collectibles. The first two vinyl I ever bought were Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and AC/DC’s Back in Black. Now you know how much I love Sturgill’s album, as it was Country Perspective’s 2014 Album of the Year. Back in Black to me is one of the best rock albums ever. Each song is simply great and it’s an album I can put on and listen to anytime, anywhere and enjoy it. Soon I bought another one. Then a couple more. Before I knew it I had myself a growing collection. Now I’m kind of addicted to vinyl. It’s crazy.

Why do I love this crazy format? Well more than anything it combines two of my favorite pastimes: listening to music and collecting stuff. From an early age I’ve always like to collect stuff from rocks (not my dumbest collection idea) to books to baseball cards (this is dumber than collecting rocks). I’ve also always liked looking at album cover art and the writing credits, things that are more emphasized in vinyl covers. Another pro of vinyl collecting today compared to yesteryear is most come with a CD and/or digital download copy of the album. You get two, possibly three formats, for the price of one. That’s a pretty good deal to me. And no it’s not just hipsters buying vinyl nor are you a hipster for buying vinyl. It’s a niche hobby for people who have a great passion for music for the most part (there are some hipsters, but they’re avoidable). Digital is still my main format, but vinyl certainly has a place in my heart now too. It’s made me have a greater appreciation for music and I look forward to growing my collection even bigger.

If you’re interested in getting into vinyl too feel free to reach out and I would be happy to answer any questions. There are also many great forums across the Internet that will answer your questions. Also don’t forget that Record Store Day is this Saturday! You can find out more information on that here. One more thing: For those wondering, this is my favorite vinyl record for multiple reasons:

Blackberry Smoke Vinyl

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers will release their new collaborative album Hold My Beer next Monday. You can order the album at this link. I’m pretty excited about hearing this one, as everything I’ve heard from it so far has been great. Two talents like Bowen and Rogers getting together for an album is something that doesn’t happen too often. I’ll definitely have a review on this one.
  • Texas country artist John Moreland will release his new album High Tulsa Heat next Tuesday. This is another album I’ve heard a lot of good buzz about and as someone who isn’t real familiar with Moreland’s work, I’m intrigued to give it a listen.
  • I think next week is Texas country release week. William Clark Green is also coming out with a new album next Tuesday and it’s titled Ringling Road. I’ve seen a lot of critics praise this one too. Can next week get here already?
  • The only mainstream release slated for next week is Brett Eldredge’s new single “Lose My Mind.”

Throwback Thursday Song

Sunny Sweeney – “From A Table Away” – I heard this song come on my local radio station this past week and forgot how great this song is. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear it on the radio. Why Kelsea Ballerini is on the radio and not Sweeney is beyond comprehension. Well I actually know why. But still Sweeney rocks and blows most on the radio away.

Non-Country Song of the Week

Sam Cooke – “Chain Gang” – You know that funky, upbeat sound of Thomas Rhett’s “Crash and Burn”? He ripped it off from Cooke’s “Chain Gang,” which is a way better song. Just give it a listen. It sounds exactly the same as the rhythm of “Chain Gang.” If I’m in charge of Cooke’s estate, I would be working on a law suit plan right now.

Tweet of the Week

You hear that Cole Swindell and Chase Rice? You’re creeps. Listen to Lindi Ortega.

Two iTunes Reviews That Will Make You Face Palm

Rhett Crash & Burn Stupid Comment 1

Rhett Crash & Burn Stupid Comment 2

Double the stupidity this week! These were both left under Thomas Rhett’s new single “Crash and Burn.” Apparently the first reviewer has never heard any of Rhett’s music that preceded his latest single. The second reviewer is just a moron. When Rhett’s career crashes and burns I hope he takes these two fans with him.

Schedule Note: There will not be a past pulse post this week. Between the large amount of album releases and covering the 50th ACM Awards, I just didn’t have time to do one this week. It’ll return next week. However I have a review coming out tomorrow of one of my favorite country albums of 2015 you don’t want to miss.

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments!