Album Review – William Michael Morgan’s ‘Vinyl’

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A traditional revival in mainstream/radio country is something that many fans have been craving for quite a while. Of course traditional country has never really died in the broader sense for anyone who expands their listening beyond the radio, but that’s a topic for a different day. For those who limit themselves to what country radio and the major labels churn out, there’s definitely been a lack of traditional country in the last five years. When Chris Stapleton had his breakout night at the 2015 CMA Awards and the subsequent skyrocketing of his popularity afterwards, it prompted a lot of labels to re-examine themselves and prioritize putting out their own traditional country artists. After all “the industry propagates things it stands to benefit from.” Enter Warner Nashville artist William Michael Morgan. The traditional country artist from Vicksburg, Mississippi has been one of the breakout stars of the genre this year with his single “I Met A Girl.” His breakout has made a lot of traditional country fans excited about his potential and possibilities, especially since his music is being heard on the radio. To say his debut album Vinyl has been highly anticipated by these fans is an understatement. I myself have been looking forward to it too. So I dove headfirst into this album and one thing for certain from the very first listen is there’s definitely a palpable sound of traditional country throughout it.

Vinyl kicks off with “People Like Me,” an upbeat tune about the working man. It’s about the person who doesn’t go to college, doesn’t have a filter on their mouth and bust their backs working nine to five everyday. While the sentiment of the song is in the right place, the whole song paints an us vs them theme that kind of rubs me the wrong way. Not to mention it’s a tired trope I’ve heard numerous times and done better. It’s just hard to get much out of a generic theme like this. The instrumentation is nice though, decidedly in that 90s country vein of rowdy and catchy that fans grew to love. Some pedal steel guitar plays in the album’s title track “Vinyl.” As you can guess from the title, the song revolves around vinyl, as the man compares his love for his woman to music on vinyl. Just like vinyl, he says his woman is the “old fashioned” type that you don’t see too many of anymore. This analogy works well enough and with vinyl’s popularity continuing to surge, it smartly appeals to a lot of people. It’s most likely the second single from the album, as it’s been getting a lot of airplay on Sirius XM’s The Highway for months.

“Missing” is undoubtedly one of the best tracks on the album. The song is about just going missing for a while, off to a place where the world can’t annoy you and getting away from the noise of everyday life. It’s a feeling we all experience. It’s just a simple theme, yet resonates so deeply because it’s a song rooted in real feelings that real people experience. The fiddles and steel guitar heard throughout are like a hot knife cutting through butter. The lead single of the album and Morgan’s first hit I’m sure of many, “I Met A Girl,” is next. The song is about a man meeting a girl (you could figure this out from the title) and the ways this girl make him feel. He’s obviously struck by her. That being said there isn’t a lot of meat to this song either. Then again with a first single you can’t expect something too deep and really this goes deeper than most debut singles. As many have heard already, Nashville pop artist Sam Hunt helped write it and I’m sure that will make your head spin if I just broke the news to you.

Following this is “Spend It All on You,” a song with a sort of lingering tone. It’s about a man wanting save up all of his time to spend it with the love of his life. Again just like “People Like Me,” this song just doesn’t do much for me. When I say it has a lingering tone, I don’t just refer to the production and instrumentation. The lyrics are pretty generic and the song feels like it drags on too long, even though it clocks in just over three and a half minutes. For a romantic love song, I think it tries too hard to convey this feeling. “Beer Drinker” is what you would call one of the most “radio friendly” songs on Vinyl. The song is about shouting out all of the hard-working people out there who bust their ass and finish it off with cold beers at the end of the week. It’s an ode to the working man. But while the lyrics err on the side of radio friendly, the instrumentation is still decidedly country. Think of this as a better, more country version of Lee Brice’s “Drinking Class.”

The deepest and best song on the album is hands down “I Know Who He Is.” Written by Casey Beathard, the song is about a man seeing his father suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and forgetting who he is. But the son reminds us that he remembers who he is and how important his father has been to him throughout his life. The song is a real tear-jerker having to listen to a son watching his father slowly fade away. Alzheimer’s disease is probably one of the scariest diseases someone has to watch their loved one suffer through and this song perfectly captures that feeling. This is followed up by another well-written love ballad, “Cheap Cologne.” Or I should say heartbreak ballad, as the song is about a man having a sneaking suspicion his woman is cheating on him. He can smell “the honky tonk in her hair” in the form of cigarettes and cheap cologne. Of course he doesn’t smoke nor wear cheap cologne. It’s pretty obvious she’s cheating, although it’s never clearly answered. This is another song I think would make a great choice to release as a single, as it’s not only strongly country, but the lyrics are catchy too.

“Somethin’ to Drink About” is another generic drinking song. That may be hard for some to admit, but it’s true. If you gave this song a more rock sound, it wouldn’t be out of place on a Jason Aldean album. There’s just nothing to remember about this song, as it comes off as filler. Fortunately this is followed by one of the best tracks on the album, “Lonesomeville.” If you’re looking at the title and instantly thinking of Joe Nichols’ #1 hit “Brokenheartsville,” well you’re going to think of it more when you hear the song. Just like that hit, this is your classic heartbreak, drinking country song. The man’s love has left and now he’s left alone to pick up the pieces of his broken heart. The songwriting is sharp and can really hit an emotional spot to some listeners. This is a great credit to the writers of the song: Morgan, Trent Tomlinson, Mark Sherill and Ash Underwood. The album concludes with “Back Seat Driver,” a song about a father dealing with his son growing up and moving out. The main focus is around the father giving pointers to his son on driving and making sure he’s prepared for anything. Of course this is beyond driving and about life in general, as he tells his son that he can’t be his back seat driver anymore (in life or in the car). While this theme will come off as saccharine to some, I think it will resonate with many younger listeners and connect with them in a big way. Overall it’s another pretty solid song from Morgan and a great way to close the album.

I have to be honest with you: William Michael Morgan’s Vinyl was kind of disappointing. While yes this album is without a doubt traditional country and features pedal steel and fiddle throughout, the lyrics are pretty lukewarm at multiple times. It’s what ultimately drags this album down for me, which is a shame because there are some truly great songs on it like “I Know Who He Is” and “Lonesomeville.” I think that’s something many tend to forget when it comes to major label artists and that is there’s still a great chance of major label writing, which can get derivative and monotonous. When I can point out multiple songs on this album that fit this description, that isn’t good. Despite this album’s flaws though I think it’s still a good album and a nice start for Morgan’s career. Vinyl does more things right than wrong and Morgan’s heart is certainly in the right place. The instrumentation is definitely one of the standout aspects of the album. Hopefully the lyrics can match it on the next one.

Grade: 7/10

*parts of this review originally appeared in my review of Morgan’s self-titled EP*

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10 thoughts on “Album Review – William Michael Morgan’s ‘Vinyl’

  1. I really like the album. I honestly think it is the best mainstream country album this year, with Jon Pardi’s California Sunrise a close second.

    Track by track review:

    1.) People Like Me: 8/10 (+3)
    2.) Vinyl: 8/10 (+3)
    3.) Missing: 10/10 (+5)
    4.) I Met a Girl: 9/10 (+4)
    5.) Spend It All on You: 7/10 (+2)
    6.) Beer Drinker: 8/10 (+3)
    7.) I Know Who He Is: 9/10 (+4)
    8.) Cheap Cologne: 10/10 (+5)
    9.) Something to Drink About: 7/10 (+2) [least good song]
    10.) Lonesomeville: 10/10 (+5) [best song]
    11.) Back Seat Driver: 8/10 (+3)

    Overall score: 8/10

    I definitely got a George Strait/Alan Jackson vibe from the album, especially with Missing, Cheap Cologne, and Lonesomeville. Here’s to hoping we get even more great music from William Michael Morgan in the future. 🙂

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  2. Totally agree with you on this one that the album was a minor disappointment. I guess I, like many, got my hopes up when I heard “Lonesomeville” for the first time and was expecting WMM to be something like early Josh Turner or early Easton Corbin. It’s only WMM’s debut album and yet some of this material (like “Vinyl”, “I Met a Girl”, and “Back Seat Driver”) is dangerously close to pop-country and rock.

    Nevertheless, the good songs on this album are REALLY good. “Lonesomeville”, “I Know Who He Is”, and “Missing” are all amazing, and I’ll admit the title track is growing on me, as is “Cheap Cologne”. I guess we should give WMM the benefit of the doubt; the label may be testing the waters and if the more traditional songs are well-received we may get some better material from WMM in the future.

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  3. Cheap Cologne is my personal favorite, Lonesomeville is right up there too. He’s in NYC with folks from the Opry, their snapchat story said his next single will be Missing. Don’t know how much stock to put in them though. Generally the folks running the Opry’s snapchat don’t seem too awful bright.

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  4. “Missing” is my favorite on this album. I agree with some of the specific criticisms, but the potential of the voice and overall sound makes for an interesting listen.
    I’ll be interested to see how Mo Pitney’s new album compares, since he’s another young traditionalist.

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  5. You were disappointed, I was surprisingly satisfied. I really think this is the kind of album I’ve been needing lately, something decidedly country but also warm enough and accessible enough for me to get into, and not too thought-provoking. I absolutely adore the title track, and the falsetto parts on “Spend It All On You” came completely out of nowhere and just blew my mind by how fluid they were. Love that song.

    The songs that connect the least for me are “People Like Me” and “Something To Drink About,” which are just too aggressive and (as Mark put it) “meat headed” for Morgan’s voice. He’s got this effortlessly charming and syrupy tone, which doesn’t lend itself well to party tracks.

    But, hey, props to the guy for releasing an entirely organic record and for getting “I Met A Girl” to #1. Vinyl might not be a world-beating album, but, like I said, that wasn’t the kind of record I was looking for it to be anyways. 8/10

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  6. The album is more like the deluxe version of the Ep. But with 2 very good new songs: “Missing” & “I Know Who He is”. On the other side “Somethin’ To Drink About” sounds like a Blake Shelton tune.
    I’m not disappointed. It’s the first album. WMM is 23 year young & he sounds great. A very strong 8/10.

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  7. I’m struggling with a grade for this. I’ll have a review soon so I don’t want to spoil too much, but I’m debating between a 7 and an 8. Keep in mind, where a 7 to you is somewhat disappointing, my 7 is more along the lines of “pretty good”. I think this is definitely more pleasing than Jon Pardi’s last disappointing album (not trying to knock Pardi, just saying the two albums are similar in style), but I still don’t love the entire product. I love a number of these songs quite a bit, but I agree the writing is a little too cliche and weak to really stick. That being said, the sound is excellent and this was a great listen.

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  8. Looks like Missing will be the next single.

    On the mainstream albums this year I think my biggest issue has actually been production. WMM is bringing traditional country sounds back to radio, along with Pardi. This album, to me, is more consistent, and more consistently traditional country than Pardi’s.

    Many of the favorites on this blog, aren’t trying to be mainstream artists, and they’re not really expecting good radio airplay. WMM is trying to change the sound of mainstream, radio friendly, country music. Neither is wrong, but target audience/what they’re looking for is different.

    My biggest problem with a lot of the mainstream releases this year has been production, WMM changes the sound. Hopefully, this album succeeds, and it encourages the major lables that they can have a traditional sound and mainstream radio success.

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