Let’s just start this review off by stating the obvious:
“Hard Times And White Lines” is a record so badass it should come with a seatbelt. This is the kind of album that will blow you right out of your chair if it doesn’t have you already up and moving.
Whitey Morgan and The 78’s return with a new entry in their already stellar catalogue, and this one does not disappoint. In fact, after enough spins of this record that a medical professional would say I might be addicted, I can say that I feel this is the strongest offering yet from Whitey and the boys.
This is an outstanding record. Which is an understatement. I just don’t have the proper words to convey how good this record is beyond that.
And that was the intention with this record. Whitey himself said he wanted to make sure that this record was what he wanted it to be. He would feel like a song was done, and go back and listen to it and hear something he wanted to change, and that’s exactly what they did. The obsessive perfectionism paid off in the end, however, because this album is the crown jewel of the Whitey Morgan collection. This album is a testament to country music, with all the flare of what makes Whitey Whitey. It’s the most country album Whitey has ever made, and it is absolutely a showcase of his songwriting ability.
The album opens with the decidedly dark “Honky Tonk Hell”, which was also the first single from the record. From the very first notes the song comes bearing a much weightier sound than we are accustomed to from Whitey. The heavy riffs of the track draws parallels with a classic Black Sabbath song, using the music to set a heavy mood and attitude that you are on dangerous ground. The lyrics tell a story that Whitey can tell us with finite expertise. The perils of life on the road, life in bars, life on the edge. Whitey’s vocals on the track grab your attention, and hammer the story and message home with surgical precision. Where we are accustomed to hearing Whitey sing loud and boisterously, on this track he sings low, with grit and growl. You find yourself listening in carefully, and it draws you in even more as you do. It’s a fascinating song that shows off a new side of Whitey that leaves you wanting to hear even more of it’s dangerous sound.
“Bourbon and The Blues” is the second track, and it changes the pace considerably. Gone are the dark and heavy riffs, replaced by a straight up, laid back beat around a honky tonk rock. Written by Whitey and Travis Meadows this song exposes the life of being able to find solace only in the drink and blues. “I keep getting the same advice Hank Williams never used, now I’m somewhere south of Birmingham with bourbon and the blues.” A fantastically written drinking song, this one has plenty of moments where it gets a little deeper than you might think.
The strongest songwriting (at least in my opinion) is up next with “Around Here”, a song straight out of the old picture from life’s other side. Telling the story of a love that went stone cold seemingly without notice this song illustrates it’s story and inspires the emotions of feeling the hurt. “Now she’s somewhere out there high on champagne glasses, carrying on like she didn’t do me wrong. I’m down here on the floor the wall’s collapsing, why’d she go and do a good man wrong?” The music accompanies the song well, staying upbeat but not drowning out the emotions on display. An excellently written country song, “Around Here” stood out as the highlight of the album for me immediately.
A cover of Don Duprie’s “What Am I Supposed To Do” is up next, and Whitey’s seasoned voice delivers the lyrics with the kind of experience necessary to sing a song like this. A look at when life doesn’t go as expected, the song explores the kind of crisis’ that leave us dead in the middle of life’s crossroads wondering if there even is a right choice to make. “I’m 45 and I’ve got no place to hide, I’ve got nothing left to lose. Is this what I get after all that I gave? What am I supposed to do?” As Whitey sings “Is this what I get after all that I gave?” there is a certain fire, and anger to his voice that really empowers the line and gives it an added weight that evokes the emotion of someone feeling that helpless anger.
The ZZ Top classic “Just Got Paid” is up next, and just like with everything else Whitey covers he makes it his own all while bringing his own vibe to the song. With no shortage of intensity, the track rocks and rolls right along, the band backing Whitey’s vocals with a vicious growl. It’s a fun homage, and one that fits Whitey like a hand in a velvet glove.
Accentuated by excellent steel guitar work “Hard To Get High” is up next. Not just another drinking and drugging song, this one delves into the emotions of the hurt being so bad that even the chemicals can’t chase it away. “When you tore me apart I turned loose of my soul, ain’t it hard to get high when you’re feeling this low?” The growl of Whitey’s signature Telecaster contrasts with the steel guitar for a track that pushes the album along pulling the listener right with it.
Who doesn’t love Dale Watson? There’s no doubt that Whitey does as the Watson penned “Carryin’ On” is up next. This has always been one of my favorite Dale Watson songs since I first heard it, and Whitey delivers it like an expert on the subject. It’s a track that feels very personal from Whitey, as if he’s analyzing his own life. “While you’re out there making more wrinkles your family’s making more memories every day, and you think that you’d know better than to still be carryin’ on this way.” A relaxed sound encourages the listener to pause and reflect on the question of themselves.
“Fiddler’s Inn”, a song written by Whitey and Ward Davis is up next. Telling a story from the famous Nashville motel, the song takes a 3rd person look at a night and all it’s refugees seeking shelter there. How they all come together in one location and somehow exist with a certain harmony, all taking solace in their own vices. “There’s heroes and demons, excuses and reasons, hard times and white lines, redemption and sin.” The track, as it should, features some very fine fiddle work. The song is a place where all of us can fit in, no matter what.
Whitey shows off a more vulnerable side than we are used to in the next to last track “Tired Of The Rain”. A song about when love is there, but just not working. “Maybe I wasn’t meant for love, or love wasn’t meant for us. Either way I’m moving on” sings Whitey with an honesty that leaves you with no doubt Whitey has been in that very position before. A very deep song, “Tired Of The Rain” comes at you and leaves you with something more than you would expect if you listen closely.
The album ends with maybe it’s most honest song, a seemingly introspective number written by Whitey and steel guitarist Brett Robinson entitled “Wild And Reckless”. This song sounds like a late night conversation between Whitey and Brett as they barrell down the highway to the next show. An admission of what it takes to live the hard life of the road, the allure of the love and adoration, the pain of missing the ones you love most. “There’s a kid out there somewhere bearing my name. Those arms wrapped around him sharing my pain. This line that I’m toeing I’m toeing for you, but my age it is shows, but boys I ain’t quite through”. This track feels like an uncensored look into the heart and mind of the mighty Whitey Morgan. It elicits a certain endearment to him. It’s an acknowledgment that while the family life and home are desired, the crowd who comes to appreciate him holds a special spot in his life as well.
Every time I try to decide “Around Here” is the best track on the album I listen to one of the others and just enough doubt begins to creep in that I am making the wrong choice to give me pause. I think that’s something that makes this album as good as it really is. All of the songs on this record speak to the listener. There’s no way you can dismiss any of these songs. You know an album is good when it leaves you in a total lurch about which track is the best because there really is no clear-cut winner. And that is precisely the kind of wonderful predicament that this album leaves us with.
The one thing we should all be sure of at the conclusion of this record is that “Hard Times And White Lines” is an absolutely stellar album. An emotional journey, it gives us a raw and real looks at the things that make up the worlds we live in. The things that make us feel. The things we all experience. It’s a record that was made with a pure love and honesty. A record meant to be experienced from experience.
And what an experience it is.
“Hard Times And White Lines” releases Friday.