My Kind of Country

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Album Review: Craig Morgan – ‘A Whole Lot More To Me’

CraigMorgan-AWholeLotMoretoMeFor his seventh album, A Whole Lot More To Me, Craig Morgan wanted to craft a record that broke down genre stereotypes and cast him in a new light. It’s his first album of original material in four years as well as his second album for Black River.

The first single, “When I’m Gone” was released back in September and peaked at #48. Written by Justin Ebach and Steven Dale Jones is an optimistic banjo-driven uptempo about wanting to be remembered as someone who lived life to the fullest.

The second single, released in May and yet to chart, is the power ballad “I’ll Be Home Soon” written by Ebach, Jones and John King. The lyric is typical of modern country love songs, but Morgan brings an emotional gravitas that elevates the song to just above generic.

Morgan had a hand in co-writing five of the album’s twelve tracks. “Living On The Memories” is a bombastic power ballad he collaborated on with Scott Stepakoff and Josh Osborne. Mike Rogers joined him for the title track, where he goes out of his way to debunk his country boy image with an interesting laundry list of illustrations emoted by a vocal that could’ve been toned down a few notches. “I’m That Country” walks everything back by devolving into Morgan’s typical style. “Remind Me Why I’m Crazy” is an excellent ballad about lost love with a cluttered treatment that intrudes on my overall enjoyment. Morgan’s final co-write, “I Can’t Wait to Stay,” is nothing more than a song about remaining in the town where your family has generational roots.

It feels as if a prerequisite of any modern day country album is having a song co-written by Shane McAnally. His contribution, a co-write with Eric Paslay and Dylan Altman is “Country Side of Heaven,” which is actually a great song. The overall track would’ve been better served with an acoustic arrangement, which would’ve brought fourth the interesting lyric a lot more.

“All Cried Out” is a bombastic power ballad ruined by atrocious wall-of-sound production that causes Morgan to over sing. “Nowhere Without You,” co-written by Michal McDonald and John Goodwin, is much better although I found the piano based production rather bland. Will Hoge and Gordie Sampson teamed with Altman on “Who Would It Be,” a name-check song about the legends you would spend time with if you could.

The final cut, “Hearts I Leave Behind,” features Christian Rock singer Mac Powell. The song was originally recorded by Pete Scobell Band Featuring Wynonna Judd, which I reviewed last year. It’s far and away the crowning achievement of A Whole Lot More To Me and a perfect song for Morgan.

The marketing materials for A Whole Lot More To Me describe the album as ‘sexy,’ which I most certainly would not. There is hardly anything here in that vein, unlike Dierks Bentley’s Black, which makes it an odd descriptor. Morgan does sing at full power, which showcases his range but unintentionally sound like Blake Shelton circa 2008. The album is bombastic and unremarkable on the whole, but I give Morgan credit for giving into mainstream pressures without selling his soul. A Whole Lot More To Me is nowhere near the upper echelon of albums for 2016, but it is far from the scrap heap. He could’ve done better, but it’s clear he is giving his all.

Grade: B

Single Review: Pete Scobell Band Featuring Wynonna Judd – ‘Hearts I Leave Behind’

t235083818-i969744519_s400The patriotic tend from the early 2000s seems to be in a mini resurgence, thanks to Zac Brown Band’s cover of the Jason Isbell-penned “Dress Blues” and Pete Scobell Band’s “Hearts I Leave Behind,” a duet with Wynonna Judd. The latter hit #1 on iTunes the week it was first available for download.

Scobell, a seventeen-year veteran of the US Navy, served six deployments as a Navy SEAL. A married father of three, he served as the opening act for Judd’s Stories and Song tour. When I saw them March 8, they performed their duet during Judd’s encore.

Travis Meadows originally composed the reflective ballad about the struggles he’s faced in his own life. A teenage cancer survivor, he lost his brother in a drowning accident and beat addiction after four stents in rehab. The track eventually made its way to Scobell, who had it with him when he was on tour with the widow of his close friend, American Sniper Chris Kyle. Taya had a visceral reaction to the tune and begged him to record it in honor of Chris’ memory. She essentially felt the track perfectly represented her husband.

“Hearts I Leave Behind” is a delicate acoustic ballad, accentuated with erethral ribbons of organ woven through gentle strums of acoustic guitar. The band elevates the track, kicking in halfway through with lighter accompaniment.

The gorgeous track perfectly blends Scobell and Judd’s voices, when one would expect Judd to overpower the proceedings much like Jennifer Nettles always tends to do when collaborating. But she’s an even more remarkable singer then she lets on because she’s in faultless control of her gifts. When most singers would go for the belt, she quiets down, handling the lyric with masterful precision.

On first listen, “Hearts I Leave Behind” can sound a bit schmaltzy. It takes a few listens before the spiritual aspects of the lyric reveal themselves and you realize this is a song about love and how we never really leave those back on earth who knew us when we were here. It’s a powerful message, presented delicately.

Grade: A

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