Morganway – Back To Zero
For many decades, acts would tour mainly to sell albums. Someone would go see a show in their hometown, catch some up and coming act, and with a bit of luck they’d hopefully love what they heard and buy the album to hear it all again at their leisure. That was the way of the industry, selling records was where the money was. These days it’s the other way around. Streaming pays a pittance, there’s no money in the album itself. What pays an artist’s bills now is ensuring that listeners like what they hear enough to come to a show. Neither approach is necessarily better than the other though, mainly because how a band sounds on an album and how they sound live are often two completely different beasts. For some the meticulously crafted atmosphere found on their albums is difficult to reproduce live, while for others the energy and magic of playing to a crowd just can’t quite be captured in an empty recording studio.
Sometime between their eponymous debut and now, I was lucky enough to catch Morganway live, and this Americana outfit put on one hell of a show. Vocals so full of fire and passion, an engaging set that walked the line between eclecticism and approachability, and above all the band’s infectious joy and sense of camaraderie. While their debut showed plenty of promise, hearing those tracks live showed the band fully realised, living up to all that potential. It most certainly gave me a new appreciation for them, and raised my expectations for whatever they would next bring to the table.
Back To Zero starts off strong with the engaging opener ‘Wait For Me’. Great driving rhythm section lent even more urgency by the violin in the chorus, the way the bridge builds towards a compelling climax, and a prime example of SJ Mortimer’s stellar vocals front and centre. A kind of power and grit that feels like Stevie Nicks meets Heart’s Ann Wilson. The bluesy ‘Come Over’ has some phenomenal interplay between the guitar and violin, blurring the line between the two, while the title track is awash with gorgeous melodies and delivers the record’s most memorable hook. Album highlight ‘Burn Every Page’ delves deep into the dustbowl with its slow-burning western mystique, that culminates in a dramatic centrepiece that sees the band at their fiercest. Following such a powerhouse cinematic moment with the bare-bones piano balladry of ‘The Sweetest Goodbye’ was a bold sequencing choice, but really serves to demonstrate Morganway’s remarkable range and versatility.
This new record builds upon the strengths of their debut, but it still occasionally falls at the same hurdles too, with certain tracks really struggling to capture the band’s energy. Americana lives and breathes on authenticity. It thrives on a personal touch; feeling an artist’s emotion in their vocals, the rawness of an arrangement’s rough edges. Tracks like ‘World Stopped Running’ and ‘We Were Going Nowhere’ (coincidentally both featuring Callum Morgan on lead vocal duties) feel completely overproduced, presenting a cold, aloof and overblown wall of sound that doesn’t play to the band’s strengths at all. It does a major disservice to the former especially, with the potential of its big singalong melodies being somewhat squandered. ‘The Man’ also feels a little limp and dispassionate, really lacking the fire of earlier cuts in pretty much every department. I can picture an alternate take where it ends up being one of the album’s highlights, but this isn’t the one.
The dilemma this album puts me in is that while it’s a perfectly enjoyable listen, I know for certain that there’s a better version of it possible. Some other universe running parallel to this one where the magic of Morganway performing onstage, and in the studio, are one and the same. I urge you to see this band live if the opportunity presents itself. You’ll see every once forgotten filler track in a rosy new light, and hear each highlight elevated to astounding new heights. The band’s sophomore effort is thankfully a step in the right direction, so perhaps the next release will see worlds collide and show Morganway as the band I know they can be. Fingers crossed!