On his excellent new eponymous LP — his first solo album since 1990 — Scott Morgan returns R&B music to the garage, which may not be the only place it belongs when played by white dudes, but certainly provides a nice, safe haven for the musical form when delivered properly. Of course, this is nothing new for Morgan, who's been doing the same thing with that type of music since the mid-'60s when, as the leader of the Rationals, he scored a major regional hit by garage-ifying (and/or punk-ifying) Otis Redding's "Respect" long before Aretha recorded her now-legendary version. In other words, Morgan was a pioneer of the form, doing it before it was a conscious and deliberate career choice. (Later, with Sonic's Rendezvous Band, he'd achieve the same thing with various cover versions. Who, besides Hendrix, could've gotten away with covering Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," as that band frequently did onstage?)
The lo-fi production that sometimes comes out of Jim Diamond's Ghetto Recorders studio actually works wonderfully here from the get-go, when the disc opens with a cover of Holland, Dozier & Holland's "Something About You" (an early hit for the Four Tops). The song initially kicks off with a groove that faintly recalls the Beatles' "Get Back" before evolving into a primitive riff that resembles early Velvet Underground at its best. Diamond is only one-third of a triumvirate-of-cool production team that includes Matthew Smith and Dave Shettler. That threesome, along with Powertrane guitarist Chris Taylor, also comprise Morgan's backing band (Morgan, for his part, spends most of his time on organ and piano when not singing lead), with local superstar Eddie Baranek showing up on two of the album's 11 tracks.
Another local musician recently took umbrage to something I'd written that criticized his band for including too many covers on their new album. Truth is, I have no problems whatsoever with cover versions; in fact, I adore them if done correctly. But no one wants to hear a note-for-note copy of a song that's played on oldies radio every several hours — and that's why it's such a joy to hear Mr. Morgan and crew demonstrate how it should be done, as they deliver no less than five covers, and, for the most part, make them work.
In addition to the Four Tops tune, Morgan reveals himself to be man enough to cover fairly obscure compositions by Bobbie Gentry (the Southern-fried "Mississippi Delta") and Nina Simone (the pure blues of "Do I Move You?"). But he really prepares to do battle with critics and purists alike on two other very well-known covers — the Temptations' "Since I Lost My Baby" and, especially, Sam Cooke's "Bring It on Home to Me." The first just ends up being OK since it really brings little new to the song's legacy, but its bare-bones production does drive home how much David Bowie copped its intro for his own "When You Rock 'N' Roll With Me" on Diamond Dogs. The Cooke song could've been even more problematic, however; "Bring It on Home to Me" is the last song the world needs to hear covered again. And yet, with Baranek on second doubled-lead vocal (a role fulfilled by Lou Rawls on the original), the crew transforms it into the most cacophonous (at least its intro) and punk version of the song to date.
The originals all hold their own as well. Morgan's "Fallin' for You" features an early Stones-ish groove interspersed with Rascals-like brightness, while his "Lucy May," with its "How Many More Times" riff and feel, is sorta Cream meets Zeppelin meets the Hendix Experience, all at their let-down-their-guards, "sloppy," rock 'n' roll best. It's actually uncanny how much the vocalist sounds like Hendrix here ... and it's great. The production team also collaborated on two tracks with Morgan, including the evocative "Summer Nights," which features one of those sinister guitar riffs, complete with a "Respect"-like "Hey, hey, hey!" vocal hook, that immediately drills into your subconscious. And during the cut's dramatic bridge, Morgan sounds positively Mitch Ryder-ish, albeit Ryder in his prime.
Best of all, though, is "Memphis Time," which celebrates that city's grand musical tradition with name-checks (from B.B. King and Elvis to the Stax label's Memphis Horns) and joyous music that's basically yet another variation on "Shout" (a song and hook that's so timeless, Green Day still uses it in concert to demonstrate how many memorable tunes have been derived from that single Isley Brothers classic). Baranek's blaring punk-rock guitar throughout the song, especially when "dueling" with Morgan's vocals, is incredible, giving the archetypal melody that added spark. The original riff was taken from gospel music in the first place and, as such, the song — especially with its added punk rock element — is almost guaranteed to make the listener feel as fine as early incarnations did when the music was promising heavenly salvation to religious types. In a word, it's ecstatic — something that could be applied to this entire very fine disc.
Scott Morgan is officially released on May 18.
Bill Holdship is the music editor of Metro Times Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.