Scott Morgan - Scott Morgan (Alive Naturalsound)
After the run of great records with The Solution, Powertrane and The Hydromatics, Scott Morgan thought it was time to make a solo album. Thus the former singer and guitarist of the legendary Sonic's Rendezvous Band (and even before that, The Rationals) gathered around him some of the most respected musicians of the Motor City and pulled out an album that oozes black music and emotions out from every note.
Beside him are Matthew Smith (piano, guitar, vocals), Chris Taylor (guitar, vocals), Dave Shettler (drums, vocals) and above all, on bass, former Dirtbombs and producer (The White Stripes, among others) Jim Diamond who recorded the album at his famous Ghetto Recorders.
Scott Morgan, "The White Man With A Black Voice", once again does nothing to hide his roots and in the 11 tracks of this eponymous record makes a profession of faith in soul and R&B with a collection of songs equally divided between covers and originals.
The album starts with a reinforced version of Four Tops' "Something About You" that slips into the charming soul of "Fallin' For Ya" and the exuberant "She's Not Just Another Woman", an extraordinary piece of R&B originally released by Detroit's Eight Day in the early '70s. Among the originals it stands the effervescent funky-oriented "Summer Nights", enriched by choirs and vaguely reminiscent of "Purple Haze". While Jerry Butler's cover of "Since I Lost You Baby" shows us all Scott's lyricism. A hypnotic blues-rock riff stands in "Lucy May", while the groove emerges in "Mississippi Delta" (Bobbie Gentry) and "Memphis Time".
But it's not over yet: there are two superbly-made covers still - the charming "Do I Move You" by Nina Simone and the immortal Sam Cooke's number "Bring It On Home To Me" - and especially "Highway " in which, just for a moment, Scott Morgan and his bandmates leave the black music and drag to hi-energy rock'n'roll in the vein of Sonic's Rendezvous Band. A perfect conclusion for an album that seems to be the perfect picture of Scott Morgan's career: honest, passionate, uncompromised. - Roberto Calabro
The manner of this album is as important as its contents. A bunch of originals that sit comfortably with the mix of well-known and less familiar soul tunes is one thing, but its the way they're delivered - self-assuredly and with a loose-tight feel and genuine warmth - makes what might have been merely a very good record into a great one.
Soul - generically and actually speaking - has always been at the heart of Scott Morgan's music. It's weaved its way through the sporadic successes and dry gullies of a career stretching back to the mid-'60s. Mutual attraction and his not inconsiderable vocal talents won him billing as the original master of blue-eyed soul. If he had to give a transfusion soul would be his blood type.
The band Scott assembled for this record had been backing him as the irRationals, a collection of Michigan like-minds and underground notables whose immediate ambition was to reprise the music of the Rationals, Morgan's original (pre-Sonic's Rendezvous Band) outfit and the subject of the recent "Think Rational!" re-issue. Putting them into the studio and skewing the material more broadly was an inspired idea.
Material aside, it's a different approach from the Hydromatics, Morgan's fire and brimstone European-based band, and his hometown-based Powertrane, whose adept mix of soul and road rock was formidable enough. Drummer Dave Shettler's feels suggest more of a groove and lock in nicely with Jim Diamond's warm bass and there's a stronger reliance on backing vocals. It's also nowhere as heavily arranged as The Solution, Morgan's chart action Swedish big band who inexplicably petered out as wider success beckoned.
This is the sound of a bunch of muso's who understand the material and enjoy playing it. The casual way "Mississippi Delta" builds, breaks down and then picks itself up again shows as much. I heard the early mixes and of all the songs, it was "Bring It On Home To Me" that didn't do much for me. Sequenced and in its final form, however, it's the way it sonically rolls out of bed, awakens and greets the day that is its strength.
If you're tackling well-known covers like "Since I Lost My Baby" you need to bring something fresh to the party and Morgan and Co nail that requirement in all departments.
Aside from the previously mentioned members, longtime Powertrane collaborator Chris Box Taylor moves to guitar and relishes the opportunity with some fantastic playing. Matthew Smith alternates between six strings and keys with ease and Morgan sets aside his trust Telecaster to focus on vocals.
Eddie Baranek's guest guitar on the band-composed "Memphis Time" adds a fresh tonal twist. Lyrically, it's a tribute to soul music - by someone living in it. - The Barman
It may not matter to many people that Scott Morgan could be the most underrated rocker in America, but the fact remains. Sure, it took decades for the recorded legacies of his two great bands, ‘60s garage kings and blue-eyed soul brothers the Rationals and ‘70s Detroit underground supergroup Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, to see legit release, but Morgan mined the SRB motherlode on ultra-obscure releases like "Rock Action" (released in 1989 on the French Revenge label) and "Revolutionary Means" (released in 1995 on tiny Ann Arbor indie Schoolkids) that combined high energy rock with gritty R&B and heartland songwriting that skirted the fringes of Springsteen-Mellencamp territory.
Morgan emerged to mere semi-obscurity with "Dodge Main" (released in 1996 on the same label that just released this self-titled solo debut), a Detroit energy orgy in collusion with co-conspirators Wayne Kramer and Deniz Tek, and spent the next decade touring and recording with two bands: the Hydromatics (formed by head Hellacopter Nicke Royale and Dutch punk pioneer Tony Slug with the express intention of recording the SRB canon) in Europe and Powertrane (with ex-Rob Tyner’s MC5/Torpedos/Mitch Ryder guitarist Robert Gillespie) in the States. The Hellacopters association culminated in The Solution, a horn-driven R&B outfit that was a big hit in Scandinavia.
Now he’s finally released a “solo” album, surrounded by a crack cadre of younger Detroit/Ann Arbor garage rock guys including White Stripes producer Jim Diamond, who plays bass here as well as sharing production duties with Outrageous Cherry’s Matthew Smith (guitar) and the Sights’ Dave Shettler (drums). Rounding out the studio band is Mazinga guitarist Chris “Box” Taylor, who must have been chafing at the bit to pick up his main axe during all those years he spent playing bass in Powertrane. For the first time since his Rationals daze, Scott puts down his Telecaster to concentrate on vocalizin’.
Morgan thinks this album sounds like Exile on Main St. – funny how rock guys of a certain age still use the Stones as a signifier – but it’s really more like a good blues session with a really relaxed vibe, which actually goes through four distinct “movements.” Things kick off with a rocked-up cover of the Four Tops’ “Something About You” that works off a chunky Chuck Berry groove overlaid with a little Velvets “White Light/White Heat” sycopation. Beefy backup vocals – an element that’s been missing from the mix since Scott’s late-‘90s resurgence -- bolster his raspy lead. Scott’s “Fallin’ For Ya” juxtaposes a slightly modified version of the riff from “Fortune Teller” with jazzy descending chords; the band chugs along nicely.
Jackie Wilson’s “She’s Not Just Another Woman” is wish fulfillment for these feedback-scorched ears. Some of my favorite Morgan music is the vocal harmony-rich Northern soul style of the Rationals’ “Temptation ‘Bout to Get Me” (a Knight Brothers cover) and “I Need You” (the slow one, not the Kinks song), and this is Scott’s first foray onto that turf since the reunited Rationals cut a couple of tracks in the early ‘90s (seek out the worthy odds-and-sods anthology Medium Rare to hear ‘em). On “Summer Nights,” another Morgan original, the wah-wah guitar groove and heavily reverbed backing vocals recall the sound of Norman Whitfield-era Temptations – a good thing. Speaking of the Tempts, next side up is a note-for-note cover of Smokey Robinson’s “Since I Lost My Baby,” which makes me nostalgic for the days when the Rationals’ Steve Correll used to play David Ruffin to Scott’s Eddie Kendricks.
Things take a bluesy turn with Scott’s “Lucy May,” a straight and kinda stiff four-on-the-floor I-IV-V shuffle (which might sound pretty ordinary until one considers the fact that rock musos under 30 seem to have lost any comprehension of this form). Here and on the next couple of tracks, the acid-blooze guitar textures evoke early Funkadelic flashbacks. “Mississippi Delta” might come as a surprise to anyone (like myself) who didn’t realize that Bobbie Gentry wrote any songs besides “Ode to Billie Joe,” but Morgan’s that kind of musical archaeologist. The arrangement of Nina Simone’s sultry, sexy minor-key blues “Do I Move You” owes everything to the Magic Sam classic “All Your Love” on which it’s modeled.
Lyrically, “Memphis Time” evokes the spirit of that city in the same way as Scott’s “Detroit” did for the Motor City, but the backing is all Motown (albeit a lot busier and dirtier than anything the Funk Brothers ever laid down). Sights frontman Eddie Baranek contributes guitar to that track, and second vocals and guitar to a “Bring It On Home To Me” that adds nothing to Sam Cooke’s, the Animals’, or anybody else’s version. The rockin’ “Highway” takes it out firing on all cylinders.
While this album isn’t exactly pushing back any boundaries, it’s as succinct a statement of Scott’s signature strengths as we’re likely to hear, and on a long-lived label that’s likely to keep it available for more than a couple of seasons – a major beef with much of his catalog. You still can’t live without Big Beat’s double-disc Rationals retrospective and at the very least, Alive’s Masonic Auditorium for SRB archivismo, but going forward, when I want to pull somebody’s coat to Scott Morgan and time is tight, this is the disc I’ll reach for. - Ken Shimamoto