My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Class of ’89 Album Review: Lorrie Morgan – ‘Leave The Light On’

leavethelighton1Lorrie Morgan was one of the ‘Class of ’89’ who had been around on the fringes of the country world for a while, but who made a major breakthrough that year. Her father George Morgan was a minor country star of the 1950s, who sold a million copies of his biggest hit, ‘Candy Kisses’, and Lorrie’s first single, in 1979, was a posthumous duet with him. Thanks largely to her family connections she became an Opry member in 1984, before she had had any hits in her own right, and five years before the release of her debut album. Sadly, the release of Leave The Light On was overshadowed by the death shortly before of Lorrie’s husband, Keith Whitley, and she received a certain amount of criticism at the time for continuing to perform.

Lorrie’s warm alto voice is very good, but her qualities as an artist rest more in her interpretative ability than in the voice itself. She was fortunate in the material she and producer Barry Beckett found for Leave The Light On, because the majority of it provided a great showcase for her. Her style was rather more contemporary than many of her peers, certainly compared to her husband Keith Whitley, which may explain why she did not record any of his songs on this release.

Almost half the tracks relate to unhappy marriages past the point of repair, and given the circumstances under which it was first heard, it would be very tempting, if perhaps not altogether fair, to read a lot into the choice of material. Sequenced differently, one could almost see this as a concept album.

Lorrie’s first top 10 hit was the lovely piano-led ballad ‘Dear Me’, as the singer addresses a letter to herself, reflecting on a lost lover, a lyric delicately delivered by Lorrie. An equally beautiful and even sadder song is ‘Far Side Of The Bed’, with the narrator packing to leave an unsuspecting and sleeping husband and reflecting on the “raging love” they once shared and have now lost. Again, Lorrie interprets it perfectly.

Beth Nielsen Chapman’s beaty mid-tempo ‘Five Minutes’ tackles the same theme with a bit more energy, and gave Lorrie her first #1 hit. Yet again, she is packing to leave with the magic long gone from the relationship, but this time gives her husband a (slim) chance at winning her back – before her taxi arrives.

In ‘I’ll Take The Memories’, a beautiful song written by Charlie Craig (who also co-wrote Alan Jackson’s ‘Wanted’) and Keith Stegall, the protagonist and her husband are dividing up their possessions, with Lorrie opting for memories over material things, “if I can’t have you”.

In ‘It’s Too Late (To Love Me Now)’, the protagonist has found another man who “is taking all the love you threw away”, the harsh rejection of the lyric belying the sweet, almost soothing, melody. The shoe goes on the other foot with ‘Out Of Your Shoes’, as Lorrie is envious of her best friend, who borrows her clothes and gets the guy.

The happier songs on the album lack the resonance of the sad ones. Lorrie gives an exquisite vocal performance on the rather average love song ‘He Talks To Me’ (a top 5 hit single). The almost-title track, ‘Gonna Leave A Light On’, is also beautifully sung but slightly dull.

I prefer ‘If I Didn’t Love You’, written by early 80s country star Deborah Allen and her husband Rafe VanHoy, but this track was one of two which appeared only on the CD release, being omitted from the vinyl and cassette versions, which had only nine tracks. This moneygrubbing practice was typical of RCA at this time – it was an attempt to encourage record buyers to pay extra for the newer format, which was almost twice the price.

The other CD-only track was the Beatles’ ‘Eight days A Week’, a very boring song given a kind-of-country makeover. It is one of very few uptempo moments on this admittedly rather ballad-heavy release, but it seems like a rather curious choice. A more interesting move up-tempo comes with the leadoff single, ‘Trainwreck Of Emotion’, a metaphor-heavy song co-written by Kathy Mattea’s husband Jon Vezner, given appropriately train-sounding production.

The best moments on this album are the subtle sad songs which dominate it, and which are some of the best songs she has ever recorded, but the price is perhaps a certain lack of variety and pace. It was a bright start to Lorrie’s career, despite the personal tragedy she was suffering at the time. It is no longer commercially available, but used copies of the CD are on offer very cheaply.

Grade: A-

3 responses to “Class of ’89 Album Review: Lorrie Morgan – ‘Leave The Light On’

  1. Razor X April 16, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    This is still my favorite album of Lorrie’s. When I first bought it, I was expecting it to have couple of really good tracks and a lot of filler, but it was a solid album from beginning to end. I especially liked the “hicked-up” version of “Eight Days A Week”, which is probably sacrilegious to Beatles fans. I think it should have been a single and not just a bonus track on the CD.

    I can remember an interview Lorrie gave shortly after the album came out, in which she talked about how many of the songs had taken on a double meaning in the light of Keith Whitley’s death. A lot of people thought she was referencing that tragic incident directly, not realizing that the album had been recorded about a year earlier.

  2. Kevin J. Coyne April 17, 2009 at 11:54 am

    This woman never got enough credit. She made solid albums that flew under the radar throughout the nineties. There are so many great album cuts scattered among those releases.

  3. Michael April 18, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    I still listen to this and her followups (Something in Red, Watch Me, War Paint and Greater Need) from start to finish at least once every year or so.

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