The short version: Whitey Morgan may not offer anything new and exciting on ‘Hard Times and White Lines’ but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The long version: Artists can only do one of two things on their next albums – evolve or deliver more of the same material. We tend to view the latter option as bad, but in the case of Whitey Morgan, it’s worked out well. Sure, he may take a little longer to push out a project compared to other artists, but at the very least, he’ll make sure the wait is worth it for his hardcore fans. His brand of no frills honky-tonk is once again on full display on Hard Times and White Lines.
To probably no one’s surprise, Hard Times and White Lines is an album where if you liked Morgan’s past studio efforts, you’re going to be satisfied with this one, with little changing since that’s the way he prefers it. Of course, this can also mean that while I don’t have a ton to say about this album nor would I call it one of the best country albums of the year (or even his own best work), it nonetheless remains a solid addition to Morgan’s discography.
Morgan is different from similar “throwback” acts. He pulls from the past, but he’s not nostalgic about it to the point where it makes his music sound like the era it stemmed from like many of his peers. He uses it to craft punchy, modern country music that honors his influences. Right away, “Honky Tonk Hell” is evidence of that with its incredibly dark, hard-hitting combination of fiddles, pedal steel and minor chords to create an ominous mood. It may be understandably overblown to some, but it really hits the album off on the right note.
What’s ironic though is that, for the most part, Hard Times and White Lines doesn’t “sound” like a heavy album despite the usual darker country themes. Morgan is emphasizing two elements in his music – a blues influence and the strong use of piano melodies. The former influence is more apparent on a more obvious track like “Bourbon and the Blues,” but it’s the latter element that really lends strength cuts to songs such as “Around Here” and “What Am I Supposed To Do” among a hand full of others. The real power shines through during the powerful choruses, which, despite Morgan’s vocal limitations, pull themselves off nicely.
Lyrically, Morgan once again won’t surprise too many fans. Drinking, heartache and depression are all prevalent on this album. At times, the songs can feel a bit gimmicky or plain such as “Bourbon and the Blues” or “Hard To Get High” with its predictable hook, but Morgan also has a knack for selecting some hard-hitting songs as well. The beautiful Travis Meadows contribution, “Tired Of The Rain” is one example, especially since it throws the listener for a loop by playing itself as a maudlin love song before turning the tables and revealing its more somber nature. “What Am I Supposed To Do” is another highlight though, showcasing the common struggles of most workers in America trying to make ends meet who just can’t no matter what they do. This feels like a long lost country classic. “Fiddler’s Inn” is also a nice story song about a tavern that’s got it all, seemingly housing every common archetype in country music and paying a nice homage to its common themes.
The album’s biggest sin just may be that some tracks have been done better by others in Morgan’s catalog or even just on this album. The ZZ Top cover of “Just Got Paid” feels unnecessary and overlong, especially with the awful vocal layering bogging down the track. Morgan’s voice is definitely the dividing element between fans and people who say this just isn’t for them, but considering he’s delivering some solid performances here, there’s no excuse for that one.
The Dale Watson cover of “Carryin’ On” is a nice tribute to a legend, but it can’t help but feel a little more judgmental than really helpful in its lyrical framing, although one also has to wonder if the subject of this song isn’t the narrator talking to himself and criticizing himself to do better. The album closer, “Wild and Reckless” is also a bit of a letdown too, featuring a monotonous vocal performance from Morgan and feeling anything but wild and reckless.
But again, Hard Times and White Lines isn’t designed to blow your doors down. It’s meant to be another solid country album from Morgan to his fans, and that’s exactly what it is for better or worse. This album may be a tad more inconsistent compared to Morgan’s past studio efforts, but there are some truly powerful moments like “What Am I Supposed To Do” and “Tired Of The Rain” that prove why he’s still the king of modern honky-tonk.
- Favorite tracks: “What Am I Supposed To Do,” “Tired Of The Rain,” “Around Here,” “Fiddler’s Inn,” “Honky Tonk Hell”
- Least favorite track: “Just Got Paid”