I’ve been a fan of Lorrie Morgan ever since I first saw her video of “Trainwreck of Emotion” on TNN back in 1988. I’ve followed her career ever since, though admittedly not quite as closely since her days as a major label artist ended about 15 years ago. I’ve always felt that the true artists are the ones who continue to make music after they’ve peaked commercially. Morgan certainly falls into that category; she released three solo albums and one collaboration with Pam Tillis in the years since her tenure with BNA Records ended. But post- commercial peak projects are often a mixed bag, particularly for artists who don’t write a lot of their own material. Finding good songs is frequently a challenge – and then there is the added problem of declining vocal power, which often plagues aging artists.
Fortunately, Morgan has overcome both of those obstacles on her latest collection Letting Go … Slow, which was released by Shanachie Entertainment last week. In an interview with Country Universe she said that she spent a considerable amount of time working to get her voice back in shape. The effort has paid off in spades; she sounds better on Letting Go … Slow than she has in years. And although she relies heavily on cover material to compile an album’s worth of songs, she’s managed to dig a little deeper and come up with some gems that are deserving of another listen but have been largely overlooked by the plethora of artists releasing covers albums in recent years.
Letting Go … Slow reunites Morgan with Richard Landis, who produced many of her biggest hits in the 90s. It’s not surprising, given Morgan’s pedigree, that a number of classic country songs are included. She’s proven that she has few peers when it comes to interpreting classic country material. One needs to look no further than her recordings of “A Picture of Me (Without You)”, “Another Lonely Song”, “Don’t Touch Me” and “Standing Tall” as evidence. But Lorrie has also always had one foot in the pop world. In an earlier era when radio formats were less rigid, she might have enjoyed success on both the pop and country charts, but there was relatively little crossing over to pop from country in the 90s (until Shania and Faith came along), and Lorrie only managed to chart on the lower rungs of the Billboard Hot 100 a couple of times. On Letting Go … Slow, her pop side is given equal footing with the more country material. While this might displease hardcore country fans, for the most part it works.
The album opens with the Fred Burch/Mel Tillis song “Strange”. Although this song doesn’t appear to have ever been a chart hit for anyone, it was the B-side of Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You” and well known due to its inclusion on her Greatest Hits album. Lorrie’s version is relatively faithful to Cline’s version. It’s followed by a sultry reading of Bobbie Gentry’s Southern Gothic classic “Ode To Billie Joe”. I’ve always been a bit lukewarm towards this song. It’s followed by an absolutely stunning version of “Is It Raining at Your House”, which was Vern Gosdin’s final Top 10 hit in 1990. It is one of the album’s highlights, along with Larry Gatlin’s “I’ve Done Enough Dying Today” and “What I’d Say”, which was a number one hit for Earl Thomas Conley in 1988. It’s worth buying the album for those three tracks alone.
As far as I can tell, “Jesus and Hairspray” is a new song. It’s an upbeat, tongue-in-cheek number with plenty of pedal steel and would probably have been a huge hit had Lorrie released it during her major label days. “Slow”, from which the album’s title is derived was written by Ashlee Hewitt and Dean Simms, is a beautiful AC-leaning ballad. Although it is not particularly country it is very well done. Ashlee Hewitt was a contestant on Nashville Star a few years ago. She also did a stint as a background singer as part of Morgan’s road tour and went on to become Morgan’s daughter-in-law. I don’t watch talent contest TV shows, so I hadn’t heard of her before, but I’m interested in hearing more of her songs.
As far as the pop songs are concerned, “Spilt Milk” is a jazzy number originally performed by its co-writer Kristina Train, an American singer/songwriter based in London. While not the sort of thing I typically listen to, I began to appreciate it more each time I played it. “Something About Trains” was written by Christopher Crockett and originally recorded by an artist named Jessica Campbell in 1989. It’s not bad, but not one of my favorites, either.
The album’s one true misstep is Lorrie’s take on “Lay Lady Lay”, which takes on a meaning that Bob Dylan probably never had in mind when he wrote and recorded the song in 1969. I don’t particularly care for the reggae beat and the background singers are too intrusive. It also just doesn’t work particularly well when sung by a woman – even in enlightened 2016.
The album closes with a re-recording of “How Does It Feel”, which Lorrie co-wrote with Kelly Lang and Mark Oliverius. It originally appeared on Lorrie’s previous album, 2010’s I Walk Alone. It’s given a more country arrangement this time around, without the saxophone solo that I disliked on the original. Lorrie’s vocals are also better this time around, which is why I suspect she chose to revisit it.
Overall, Letting Go … Slow is a pleasant surprise, with Lorrie in top vocal form. Traditionalists may take issue with some of the album’s pop songs, but there is also plenty of classic country material here to appease them. On balance, most of Lorrie’s fans will be pleased with this effort.