19 songs – 76 minutes
SCOFFLAW is pianist-singer-songwriter Clint Morgan’s sophomore effort, following on from 2008’s You’re Really Bugging Me, and a mightily impressive effort it is, too. It’s an album of pure Americana, with liberal helpings of blues, country, gospel and roots rock, all played with zip and passion. It also almost qualifies as a concept album, with the lyrics to each song combining to tell the story of a fictional person not dissimilar to the outlaw of yore such as John Wesley Hardin, Frank and Jesse James, or Robert “Butch Cassidy” Parker, all of whom were raised in good families but then chose an outlaw path. Morgan divides the narrative action between three distinct time periods – the Old West, the Depression and the modern day – while the songs explore and articulate the internal contradictions of hardened criminals who never entirely lose their Christian faith or the moral compass of their early upbringings, with confusion, remorse and self-doubt to the fore.
Morgan wrote the vast majority of the tracks, however he also included some superb covers, from Maria Muldaur’s modern gospel of “I Done Made It Up In My Mind” (also featuring Muldaur as guest vocalist), to Johnny O’Keefe’s early Australian rock and roll of “Wild One” and Bob Dylan’s “Wanted Man” (most famously covered perhaps by Johnny Cash, whose deep baritone is not dissimilar to Morgan’s own voice). A particular high point is Morgan’s loose, swinging reading of the old Bessie Smith classic “Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair”.
With superbly sympathetic support from his array of backing musicians, Morgan uses each song both to drive the overall album narrative and to capture an individual moment, such as in the harrowing pain of the Billy The Kid-inspired “I Got A Gun” on which Morgan draws a historically accurate picture of the young Henry McCarty as he sings “I got me a job out of Abilene. A dollar a day and a bowl of beans. Until the foreman called me a scrawny mutt, then he was lying there with a slug in his gut. Now I’m out on the road again, buck-toothed and dirty, short and thin. They laugh and ask me why I never grew, then they learn what a .44 slug can do.”
SCOFFLAW opens and closes (if you don’t count the bonus track of an alternative take of “I’ve Got A Gun) with haunting acapella verses of the traditional “This Little Light Of Mine” sung by the Abingdon, Alabama Children’s Choir, sounding as if they were recorded in the 1930s. In between, highlights abound, from the grinding roots rock of “Waco”, with Kenny Vaughan’s howling electric guitar to the fore, to the rollicking upbeat blues of “I Don’t Know Where To Turn” (featuring some joyful singing from Dianna Greenleaf), the bouncing countryish “D.B. Cooper Blues” (with its knowing nod to Jimmie Rodgers’ “California Blues”) and the traditional rock’n’roll of “I Love Robbing Banks”.
In SCOFFLAW, Clint Morgan has produced an outstanding album of modern Americana with its tales of loss and redemption. Let’s hope it doesn’t take eight years for his next release. Recommended.