On Craig Morgan’s new album, That’s Why, life is about sitting in Cracker Barrel rockers, driving around the old town square and sipping on Boones Farm wine.
No surprise, given that he’s earned steady radio airplay for slice-of-life songs such as “Almost Home,” “Redneck Yacht Club,” and “That’s What I Love About Sunday” (Billboard’s #1 country song of 2005). But he’s failed to translate these successes into significant career advancement. His last album, 2006’s Little Bit of Life, has yet to reach gold status despite three top ten singles. Moving to a major record label (Sony BMG imprint BNA Records) is part of Morgan’s push to stamp his image into the public consciousness and rise to the top ranks of modern country singers. Although a nice effort, That’s Why still finds Morgan in a holding pattern, sticking to the tried-and-true but still struggling to carve out a niche.
Morgan teams up with longtime producer Phil O’Donnell, with whom he shares production credit, and the pair allow Morgan’s operatic country vocals to cut through the clean, crisp musical setting. Morgan also penned six of the ten tracks, and they follow the same template of his previous releases. These songs illustrate the simple things in life, and Morgan details these everyday events with a distinctive southern drawl. That voice can be a caricature at key junctures, overwhelming the message and the mood, but it generally falls on the safe side of overkill.
But although That’s Why still maintains the traditional markings that have propelled his career so far, it’s a bit sterile at times. Where the album stumbles is a lack of conflict for its characters and a lean towards the bland sounds that overpopulate the radio playlists that Morgan targets. First single “Love Remembers” is an example of a unique hybrid, a Nashville pop-country power ballad that stays close enough to country through the sheer force of Morgan’s trademark vocal performance, but it’s the ultimate example of the album’s sterile structure. The soon-to-be Opry inductee suffers from being involved in that balancing act meeting every new artist that comes down the Nashville pipeline: to meet the genre’s current trends and still tread within the deeply-rooted sounds of its history.
The one-woman man in Morgan honors everlasting love with both “It Took a Woman” and “Planet Her,” tributes to an awe-inspiring woman and her sweet, saving grace. The album closer, “Ordinary Angels,” explores the hope that the human spirit can solve any number of life’s traumas. In the midst of trials and troubles, Morgan not only pursues happiness, but posits that it’s the only available choice. Positivity in itself isn’t a bad thing, but its sheer pervasiveness combined with the “cleaner”, more glossy production here doesn’t paint a well-rounded portrait.
Two songs in particular shoot straight at small-town America and connect. “Every Red Light” sees the narrator reminiscing on the wayward steps, all with an aw-shucks attitude that’s not only palatable, but also clearly relatable to its audience. And “Sticks,” not surprisingly, is a celebration of rural living and all its simplicity. Morgan tackles each with great clarity, but the lack of thematic diversity throughout That’s Why stalls any momentum for the rest of the album.
Morgan may never completely shed his journeyman status and rise to superstardom, but he’s a serviceable country singer. He possesses the ability to carve through the complexities of the world and wax poetic about the commonfolk and the need for friendship, the thrill in Friday night and the faith in love and the good Lord above. But Morgan never explores the challenges that make these joys that much sweeter. His regular-joe rhymes and traditional musical twists will satisfy the hard-core country fan, and the more sophisticated fans can enjoy a travel back through time with the simple stories told by one of the atypical voices in Nashville. One wishes that Morgan pursues meatier material the next time we hear it.
So we basically agree here.
Interesting lack of interest on this review.
I don’t even have to listen to the album to agree with this review, that’s not a good sign for Craig.
I bought it, it’s like his other albums good enough to get by but nothing special.
Craig Morgan is just kinda too vanilla, IMO.
Craig Morgan panders to his fans. He sings about ordinary things and tries to make them seem better, more real, and, to some degree, more American. But like Sarah Palin he falls flat time and again because his voice is as ordinary as his songs. Whenever he sings I think he is like the guy at Dollywood who sings in some attraction. He sings ok but I am not stopped in my tracks by his voice. Craig Morgan’s fans- who are probably the people I see in the Opry audience every Saturday night- want to think-need to think- that their feelings and actions, although average, are normal and important. In many ways they are right. But they deserve a better singer and better songs than a Craig Morgan can produce. He is trying to sell their lives back to them on the cheap. His audience is smarter than that I hope.
Who the sheck is coming up with all of these sucky album titles, anyway? Why Wait, Learn to Live, Do You Know, Little Bit of Everything, now That’s Why? Really?
Dan: I was thinking the same thing as you, some of the recent album titles are really sucky. Even LAW’s new one “Call Me Crazy” isn’t all that great and I don’t find it fits the mood of the album.
Craig R…. With all due respect, WHY the Sarah Palin reference?
Some of us come here for a nice escape from the 24/7 politics and please keep in mind that not everyone who likes music/art is Liberal.
I just find such references incredibly unnecessary. I live in a Uber-Liberal neighborhood in Nashville and am up to my ears in the Socialists’ nonsense.
Just give us all a frickin’ break and leave the political remarks for the other kajillion blogs and boards out there.
Sorry Kevin and others for getting off topic like that. Enough is enough.
It’s nearly impossible to escape the political stuff, and believe me, I’ve tried. I deleted all my political links a good two months ago. I’d like to keep the politics out of here as well, but sometimes it spills over.
My advice is to ignore it, and not escalate it with another cheap shot. The Sarah Palin comment was gratuitous, but so was your reference to liberals as Socialists. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Eleven, you must live in the East. Have I seen you yet?
I’m reviewing the new Toby Keith album next week, so the issue of politics is bound to rear its ugly head again. Hopefully we all remain civil internet creatures.
I live in West Nashville and while it’s pretty conservative, there’s a fair-share of left people in my area. I’ll also be reviewing Toby’s CD @ roughstock (though, thankfully, I’m finally getting some other writers on board!)
I am sorry for using Palin’s name in my comment-she was the first thing to come to mind- I will leave politics out of all of my future comments. Once again I am sorry.