Clint Morgan- Troublemaker review

Clint Morgan Troublemaker Lost Cause

Just over five years ago, I was honoured to write about Clint Morgan’s Scofflaw album, a spellbinding collection of songs about those who lived on the shadier side of the law. It was a comprehensive review of villains, and he examined their influences and used their words to reveal the tensions that exist between good and evil, and the hope held by redemption; in many ways, it reminded me of a latter-career Johnny Cash album, without the production indulgences Rick Rubin employed.

Scofflaw didn’t make my year-end list of favourite for 2016, and listening today I am challenged to hear why—the album holds up, the narratives engaging, the instrumentation engrossing. And Morgan’s voice, rough-hewn with just a touch of honey, is immediately compelling and enjoyed.

[And just so you know, I wrote the above paragraph before listening to the album under review…I was unaware that within Troublemaker there was a cover of a Johnny Cash song lurking. Sigh.]

So, bad Donald there.

2021 brings us Troublemaker, and from its title it would appear that Washington’s Morgan continues to find satisfaction in revealing the untold perspectives of those living their darker life; appearances deceive in this case. Troublemaker may not be as heavy as Scofflaw was, but there is plenty of substance to this collection of songs about lost chances, regrets, and redemption. He also cuts loose in several places, embracing lighter fare.

“Hangman Woman” is a burning blues number, not atypical of the genre but elevated by clever lyrics (“She’s my hangman woman, got a heart just like a noose” and driving instrumentation. Morgan frequently reveals a mixture of self-deprecation and discomfort in “Too Rich to Sing the Blues,” “Hungry Man Blues”—“I slip out the back, I drive down to Mickey D’s and eat me four Big Macs”—and the medical farce “Ain’t That the Blues”—“’I think I need another opinion,’ He said, ‘Okay, you’re ugly, too’”—and this lightens the emotional load of some of the album’s more substantial moments including “Echoes”—a stark, Darkness of the Edge of Town number of a man examining fading memories of his family—and “Hurricane Harvey.”

Morgan’s faith is revealed within the title track, written by David Somerville (The Diamonds) and Bruce Belland (The Four Preps) and previously recorded by Willie Nelson, the understated tale of a wanderer who “was nothing but the troublemaking kind,” rejecting “the establishment completely” and “stirring up the young folks ‘til they’re nothing but a disrespectful mob.” For those who aren’t picking up on those lyrical clues, the final verse artfully summarizes events:

They arrested him last week and found him guilty,
And sentenced him to die but that’s no great loss.
Friday they will take him to a place called Calvary,
And hang that troublemaker to a cross.

Further enriching this set is an appearance by Ann and Regina McCrary on the standard, “Go Down, Moses;” pure magic the combination of the soulful McCrary Sisters’ voices, the cascading instrumental execution punctuated by Robby Shankle’s oboe and Morgan’s soulful lead. An ingenious medley of Cash’s “Big River” and Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” is an unexpected highlight.

Morgan must be a captivating live performer. Songs like “I’ll Love You If I Want To” and “Somebody Put A Walmart on the Farm” (featuring Kinky Friedman) would be especially well-received in concert, and a pair of renditions of “The Cover of the Living Blues,” one featuring Watermelon Slim, the other a Watermelon Slim solo performance, are also appreciated. “It’s Rough Out Here” places a sardonic cap on an album full of playful, dark humour and self-deprecation: “I got a wife, I got kids—they don’t like me much; It’s okay, ‘cause I don’t like them either so it all evens out.”

The guitar playing on the album, from a number of players including Doug Lancio, Jonn Del Toro Richardson (whose spoken-word accompaniment to “Hurricane Harvey” benefits the atmospheric arrangement), Kevin McKendree, and Bob Margolin, adds incredible energy to the proceedings, as does the piano, Wurlitzer, and Hammond organ from McKendree and Jim Hoke’s saxophones.

A cross-country recording—studios in Tennessee, Washington, Mississippi, Arizona, North Carolina, and Texas were utilized—Troublemaker is an album of blues-based Americana with a twist toward Tom Russell’s humourous, lyrical dryness.

Clint Morgan isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay I suppose. Those of us who hear the appeal will appreciate Troublemaker.

I can’t locate any Clint Morgan clips to link. Sorry.

Hey- thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. I very much appreciate the interest.

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