Artist: Clint Morgan
Label: Lost Cause Records
Release Date: 06/17/2016
The romantic allure of post-Civil War outlaws like Jesse James, Cole Younger, and The Daltons are still motivating songwriters one hundred fifty years later. It’s impossible to listen to this epic themed album without recalling Paul Kennerley’s Legend of Jesse James, which was issued in 1980. Name droppers would feast on its list of performers: Johnny Cash, Levon Helm, Emmylou Harris, Charlie Daniels, Albert Lee, Rosanne Cash, and Rodney Crowell. This one doesn’t quite reach that level of star quality. Not many do, but it does feature Maria Muldaur, Diunna Greenleaf, and killer players like Kenny Vaughan on guitar and Nashville’s play anything musician, Jim Hoke. Whether it’s coincidental or not though, the music sounds pretty similar, mostly country and rockabilly, but Scofflaw leans much more toward blues and gospel too. One reason the two albums sound somewhat alike, aside from the subject matter, is that Morgan’s voice is reminiscent of Johnny Cash both in tone and phrasing.
Clint Morgan is known mostly as a boogie-woogie piano player who grew up on a farm in rural Washington State. His family hails originally from southern Appalachia and there are AP Carter strains in his family lineage. Here’s a truncated synopsis of how Morgan came up with the album idea, ‘Growing up in a rural environment, there is a culture of independence – which sometimes includes an indifference to authority. In many ways these people are a law unto themselves. I’ve always been interested in the historical characters that seemingly have these same attitudes; generally the outlaws after the Civil War as well as the Depression-era desperadoes. …..Yet, we were also raised in the church; the moms and grandmas trying to keep these boys on the straight and narrow, while the dads and grandpas laugh and encourage them in their reckless antics. …..The album tells such a story – a person who is raised on the narrow path goes out and does his own thing, but always with the knowledge that he is not doing the right thing. I’ve picked three time periods – the Old West, the Depression, and modern-day to tell the story, and dip into each era in the songs but the theme is the same.”
Songs that chronicle the criminal and fugitive protagonist include the driving, anguished “Waco”, the country “I Love Robbing Banks” and an altered key interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Wanted Man” (not surprisingly a hit for Johnny Cash). The powerhouse blues voice of Diunna Greenleaf is paired with Morgan on “I Don’t Know Where to Turn,” “Eastham Farm” and a rave-up version of Bessie Smith’s “Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair,” driven also by Jim Hoke’s clarinet. Maria Muldaur leads the gospel tunes: “Softly and Tenderly” and her own self-penned “I Done Made Up My Mind.”
The rich liner notes further explain the stories. There’s plenty to dig into here and you don’t often find a collection of players across multiple genres on one record. Listen up as Morgan has tales to tell.
– Jim Hynes