It is hard to believe that Craig Morgan’s debut album, released by Atlantic Records, came way back in 2000. While this album proved to be a false start for the 36 year old Morgan in that Atlantic shut down its Nashville operations in 2002, the resulting album revealed the US Army veteran to be a fine singer capable of drawing both on past experiences and imagination in selling a song.
The album opens up “Paradise”, a song written by Craig with Harley Allen. The initial military cadence sets the song apart from any other song I’ve heard recently. The song tells of Craig’s experience as a soldier and how it affected his outlook on life. As the chorus to the song notes:
Once I was a soldier and not afraid to die
Now I’m a little older and not afraid to try
Everyday I’m thankful just to be alive
When you’ve been where I’ve been any kind of life
“Paradise was the second single released and topped out at #46, more a reflection of Atlantic’s promotional efforts than the song’s merits.
Next up is “I Want Us Back”, a Dean Dillon composition about a man seeking to regain the spark in a relationship that seems slowly to be drifting apart. This song was released as the albums third single and reached #51 in 2001. It deserved a much better fate.
“Something To Write Home About”, written by Craig with Tony Ramey, was the first single released, reaching #38. The song is a mid-tempo ballad, considerably more upbeat, a song about life going well – a new job, a place he likes to live and most importantly
She’s got long blond hair and deep blue eyes
She likes her music loud and walkin’ in the moonlight
She laughs sometimes, sometimes until she cries
Oh Mom I’m in love and Dad I’m sure you’d be proud
‘Cause I finally got me something to write home about
“302 South Maple Avenue”, written by Craig with Paul Harrison is a tender stages-of-life ballad about a couple’s life through the years at their home at 302 South Maple Avenue. It is a very nice song, no real single potential but a good album track.
Three bedrooms, two baths, one car garage
Front porch with a swing at one end
A little over an acre lot, all wrapped in a white picket fence
It was more than a house, it was home sweet home
Where all their dreams came true, 302, South Maple Avenue
Steve Dean and Craig Morgan crafted the up-tempo “It’s Me”, a song that could have made a decent single.
If you hear a voice a-whistlin’
Outside your window, baby
It ain’t a robin or a bluebird, it’s me
If the postman brings a package
With big hearts on the wrapper
And you wonder who it came from, it’s me
Legendary songwriters Bill Anderson and Sharon Vaughn supplied Craig with “When A Man Can’t Get A Woman Off His Mind”. This song was not released as a single, although WSM-AM in Nashville gave the song repeated airplay exposure. This song is the best song Craig ever recorded, the best recording he ever made, and the best version of the song that I’ve ever heard. Atlantic was out of their minds not to release this track as a single. Craig has proven himself as a good songwriter, but here he has the work of masters
I’ve been fightin’ with these sheets again, can’t make myself lie still
My pillowcase is soakin’ wet and yet l feel a chill
It takes all I can do these days to just survive the nights
It gets crazy when a man can’t get a woman off his mind
When a man can’t shake a memory he runs hot and cold and blind
He hates her, then he loves her, then he hates her one more time
Your love has such a grip on me it chokes me like a vine
Oh, it’s crazy when a man can’t get a woman off his mind
I’ve been phonin’ you since eight O’clock, it’s almost 4 a.m.
My mind keeps paintin’ pictures of you out lovin’ him
I just crushed a dixie cup for runnin’ out of wine
It gets crazy when a man can’t get a woman off his mind
Joe Nichols, Wil Nance and Steve Dean collaborated on “Ev’rything’s A Thing”, a kind of funky and amusing ballad that makes a good tempo change and a good mood change from the prior song. The song is the only song on this album to featurehorns and reeds. Also legendary guitar Memphis guitarist Steve Cropper is featured on this song.
Craig collaborated with Jeff Knight on “Walking In My Father’s Shoes”, a nice ballad that carries two themes, the first two verses and chorus about his biological father, and the second two verses and chorus about his heavenly father. Here’s the first two verses and chorus
He made it to every ball game
Unless he just had to go to work
He always said, “A man’s got to juggle his time and his money”
And he’s got to know what each one is worth
He taught me so many things
Even when he wasn’t trying to
When I’m in a situation I can’t figure out
I just ask myself, “What would he do?”
I’m walking in my father’s shoes
He’s never let me down
That’s a lot to live up to
Stumbling and falling
Tryin’ to stand tall in
Walking in my father’s shoes
Craig had Buddy Cannon and Bill Anderson as co-writers on “Hush”, a fine exemplar of the older style of songs about cheating, drinking and marital discord
“Everywhere I Go” is one of those trying-to-forget songs, that resonate truly well for many in small towns and college campuses where it seems that there is simply no way to avoid seeing the ex-wife or ex-girlfriend. Of course, there is always the matter of the tricks the mind plays, as well. This song is another Craig Morgan co-write
Merle Haggard does a guest vocal on “I Wish I Could See Bakersfield”, a song written by Buddy Cannon as a tribute to Tommy Collins. Somehow it seems appropriated that he transition from spotlighting Haggard to spotlighting Craig Morgan contains a song with both men on it.
I wish I could see Bakersfield
Where the oil wells are pumpin’, the oranges are bloomin’
And the grapevine winds down from the hill
And I close my eyes I can touch the clear skies
At the corner where I used to live
Oh I wish I could see Bakersfield
He said, “You don’t ever know where life’s gonna lead you
When you go ramblin’ off down the track”
Sometimes I wish I’d never left California
Then I couldn’t want to go back
He said, “You know, you know
I used to be a well-known country singer
Made my first record back in 1953
At one time Buck Owens was my lead guitar player
And ol’ Hag once wrote a song about me”
Perhaps I was given false hope by this album, as it seemed to me that Morgan was en route to becoming a fine traditional country singer. With the exception of “Ev’rything’s A Think” all of the tracks feature fiddle (Rob Hajacos) and steel guitar (Mike Johnson) and sound like modern country records should sound. The songs are well-written and well-sequenced, and the vocals are well sung, without auto-tune. The band never drowns out the singer.
The new traditionalist movement was not quite dead at the time this album was released, so with better label support behind him, this album might have established Craig Morgan a few years earlier than was actually the case.
The album Craig Morgan did not chart, the singles barely charted, yet I think it is the best album that Craig Morgan ever made. True, he would go on to have much more success in the future on other labels, still for me this is it, an A+ .