Clint Morgan has been praised for not making “cookie-cutter” music. But the 15 songs on his new album, “Troublemaker,” might inspire a contrary point of view and a question: What in the devil are in those those cookies, anyway?
Let’s try: Country, gospel, blues, Americana and comedy, all delivered with Johnny Cash modulation and punctuation. Morgan’s website describes it as “Music from the Old School.”
“I don’t know what you call it, Morgan said. “Hopefully, it’s just all good.”
“Troublemaker” is the follow-up to 2016’s acclaimed, song-packed “Scofflaw,” which has an impressive cadre of contributors. “Troublemaker,” recorded at seven studios from Nashville to Olympia, Washington, is even more so.
During the concert lockdown, “everybody’s sitting around. Let’s write music and make records,” Morgan said. “I call around and if they like your material they’ll do it.”
Watermelon Slim, Kinky Friedman, Wendy Moten and Bob Margolin sing, Bob Corritore blows harp, the McCrary Sisters do harmonies, John Del Toro Richardson plays guitar, and co-producer Kevin McKendree plays most of the piano parts, somewhat of a surprise considering Morgan is a keyboardist.
“(With McKendree) I’ve got one of the best piano players in the world. Why would I want to mess it up?” Morgan said. “What’s good for the song is what’s important.”
A distant relative by marriage to the Carter Family, Morgan was raised in a household where music was as much as an educational staple as reading and writing. All of the children took two years of piano and music reading lessons from their mother. Afterward, Morgan stopped playing until he was in his 20s. He met a piano player named Daddy Cool in a downtown joint in Olympia. Each Saturday for two years Morgan made lunch for Daddy Cool and paid him for lessons.
In addition to being a performer (and fast-talking auctioneer), Morgan is a volunteer instructor at the Pinetop Perkins Foundation Workshop in Clarksdale, Mississippi, site of the blues historic crossroads.
“Pinetop set it up before he died,” Morgan said. “Every June children come from all over the world and learn instruments. They are kindred souls and lifelong friendships are developed.”
Exit 104 is famous for being the turn to take to get to Memphis’ Sun Studio. But up in the Great Northwest, there’s Exit 104 Studios where Morgan cuts records.
In his songwriting, Morgan goes the well often. Three of the songs verses start with a Eddie Cochran-esque “Well …”
“I try to tell a story,” Morgan told Tahoe Onstage. “It’s almost conversational. That’s how I approach this stuff.”
Songs are kindled when a line comes to him, such as when a friend told him his girlfriend “has a heart like a noose.”
“I said, ‘Holy cow, that’s a great line!”
It led to the opening track on “Troublemaker.”
“Lord, she’s got me hanging here,
I can’t feel solid ground.
I know she’ll be the death of me,
Somebody cut me down.”
The song ends with the sound of a twisting, weighted gallows rope. A bit of dark humor to set the sonic stage for an entertaining, riveting record.
As with each album by Morgan, there are a couple of gospel tunes. The title track, which comes at the end of “Troublemaker,” is a somber take of the 1912 hymn “The Old Rugged Cross.”
Morgan’s religious knowledge and wit combine on the playful lament “Hungry Man’s Blues.”
“My baby worships me, she treats me like a king.
That’s why every time she cooks, it’s a burnt offering.”
Morgan also talks to God in a one-chord jam, “It’s Rough Out There.”
A highlight is “Somebody Put A Walmart on The Farm,” a redux from Morgan’s solo debut in 2008. Kinky Friedman and Morgan swap lines in this ditty based on a true story.
“The farm I grew up on is a housing development; there’s probably 100 houses there now,” Morgan said. “Different parts of the country are losing their regional flavor. It’s all the same everywhere you go.”
Watermelon Slim, an eccentric genius from Clarksdale, and Bob Margolin, Muddy Waters’ old slide guitarist, join Morgan on “Cover of Living Blues.” Liner notes explain it’s parody of Shel Silverstein’s “Cover of the Rolling Stone.” Perhaps a parody of a parody should be called an homage? Regardless, a bonus track of the same song has Slim handling the lead vocals. Listening to him sing about his “worn-out face” is worth the price of admission.
Morgan took the opening hook from the standard “Walking Blues” to compose “Too Rich to Sing the Blues.”
“I look out and I see all these blues people that have no actual frame of reference to traditional blues,” Morgan said. “They are a bunch of college graduates, middle-class people who are singing blues music. I thought, this deserves a tune.”
“The sky is crying.
The tears are running down the street.
I’m not sure what the problem is.
Things look pretty good to me.”
Bob Corritore’s harmonica flavors a country stomp, “I’ll Love You If I Want To,” based on an often heard true story.
“They will tell me about their girlfriend or their wife and say, ‘Man, she’s ruining my life. She drinks all night. She spends all my money. She spits in my face.’
“I go, ‘Then what are you doing with her?’ And he goes, ‘I love her, man.’ What? All these sad sacks of both genders that are with these people that are just wrecking their life. And their only reason they can give you for letting them do this is because they love them. That what that’s about. One of those guys.”
Initially surprised to be compared to Johnny Cash, Morgan rolls with it and covers “Big River,” which segues into Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” featuring saxophones by Jim Hoke and the singing McCrary Sisters.
“I figured I’d give a little reward to people who hung on with me on the song until the end,” Morgan said.
Clint Morgan is a creative and entertaining guy. It might be cliché to say “Troublemaker” is so diverse there is something for everybody to like. So let’s go with, no matter which way the cookie crumbles, it’s all good.
- Clint Morgan
- Label: Lost Cause Records
- Release: July 16, 2021