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Whitey Morgan and the 78's

Whitey Morgan and the 78's

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Album Review

Who says outlaw country is dead? Whitey Morgan and the 78's are a rough-hewn, edgy, honky tonk band from Flint, MI, and they embody the spirit of Waylon, David Allan Coe, Hank Jr., and Johnny Paycheck from the '70s. That said, this is no mere tribute band; they also have an unsentimental, rock & roll attitude from the rust belt's DNA. This isn't "alt-country" or Americana. The 78's —Morgan (Eric David Allen) on guitar and vocals, Jeremy Mackinder on bass, Travis Harrett on drums, fiddle player Tamineh Gueramy, and pedal steel player Brett Robinson — offer hard-edged, 2-stepping, beer-soaked barroom music. Their unsubtle brand of outlaw country is likely going to appeal more to factory workers and bikers than it will to the pressed-shirt-and-jeans-cowboy-hat-wearing young fans of contemporary country. Their self-titled sophomore effort — and debut album for Chicago's Bloodshot imprint — contains seven originals and four well-chosen covers recorded at Levon Helm's Woodstock studio. The set opens with a slow-burn reading of J.D. Loudermilk's "Bad News," and the night ride is on. Former Dylan sideman Larry Campbell handles the pedal steel chores on this one, and Morgan's rich baritone delivers the authority of one who knows what he is. The band plays a solid 4/4 stride with accents on the two and four; they weave nasty Telecasters, unadorned fiddles, and up-top basslines with the snare/hi-hat combos underneath. "Turn Up the Bottle" is an homage to the music of Merle Haggard and George Jones (the latter is name-checked). The layered fiddles, whining pedal steel, and 2-step beat create a perfect atmosphere for drinking. "Buick City" is a rambling, restless, open-road-rolling,12-bar Jennings-esque blues about the 235-acre manufacturing complex in Flint that was torn down in 2002. The message is clear: I gotta get going, gotta get out. "Cheaters Always Lose" is a gorgeous lounge weeper with accordion by Mike Lynch. Paycheck's "Meanest Jukebox in Town" and Hank Cochran's "Memories Cost a Lot" are executed with a looser, rawer feel, but add levels of meaning to the originals with their under-the-radar rock swagger. The highest points here are Morgan's own songs: they are disciplined, often clever, and always written to be played by this particular band live and without compromise. The 78's are the real deal: working class outlaws who love country to the core. Highly recommended.

Whitey Morgan and the 78's, Whitey Morgan and the 78's
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