The album opens on a tear with “Bad News,” the ballad of a man who travels like the news he brings with him, a trail of broken hearts staring dazedly in his wake. “If I'm going to drown in my memory, I've got a good place to start,” Morgan croons in “Turn Up The Bottle.” This second track is a swinging homage to heart break songs about a guy drinking along to George Jones songs, which manages to wittily work a number of titles into the lyrics. Morgan takes a break to delve into the sum of Hank Cochran's deeper material, with a gorgeous cover of “Memories Cost a Lot.” Morgan picks up the tempo and drives into a more contemporary, blues inflected place with “Buick City,” a desperate-man-goes-to-the-big-city number which would not sound out of place next to the latest songs by Ryan Bingham or Justin Townes Earle. This segues into a blistering rendition of Johnny Paycheck's “The Meanest Jukebox In Town.” After half an album of songs about men hiding their heartbreak in various bars along the road, Morgan finally pulls back the throttle with “Cheaters Always Lose,” which serves as a set up to why all of those lonely men are single. “Hard Scratch Pride” erupts from a radio tuner slashing through various small town Sunday Morning Gospel stations. Whitey Morgan wails on his self-written, impassioned tale of leaving a small town for the big city with a sentimental toughness that measures up to Confederate Railroad's better ballads. “She ain't no honky tonk angel, she's the honky tonk queen,” he states on the tongue-in-cheek “Honky Tonk Queen, a song that serves both to break up the monotony of broken heart ballads while offering another reason these men might be nursing some hurt. The most blistering track on the album is “Where Do You Want It,” the Dale Watson penned back story to Billy Joe Shaver's infamous shooting incident outside of Papa Joe's Texas Saloon, a searing reminder of why one should never bring a knife to a gunfight. This slides easy into the country rock of “I Ain't Drunk,” which finds the protagonist bumbling his way through the third day of a bender. The album closes with the dark and sinister “Long Road Home,” a howling and gritty song more Drive By Truckers than Alabama.
The 1980's are, indeed, a much maligned decade in country music, but the are also a decade that is sorely missed by those who came of age within them. It was a time when country music was a balm for grownups battered by life in the middle of a recession. It was also a time when it was an aspiration for their children, who could see within the lyrics a life similar to those around them, only more interesting. In rural America in the 1980's, it was difficult to imagine being a material girl, but one could easily see having a radio heart. Those children are in their mid-thirties now, looking at a new generation of men in their forties singing about their glory days and girls in their twenties twittering about their eternal flames. Whitey Morgan and the 78s is a band for children of the 1980's, and for anyone else who lives in the reality we imagined then.
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