Outlaw’s always been the rough-around-the-edges, tuff guyuncle at the country music family picnic. Denim and leather, not Stetson and Nudie. Hair by Pennzoil, not Pomade. But,in the right hands—Haggard, Paycheck, Junior, Willie and Waylon and now Whitey Morgan—Outlaw is more than beardsand bandanas, ink and attitude, it’s goddamn folk music. It’s about doing the best you can, about getting byand about cold beer and colder women—everythingthat keeps the honky tonks full on a Saturday night. It’s about standing up when it’d just be easier to fall down.
Coming from Flint MI, the always forgotten civic little brother to Motown but no less a hard town with empty factories and emptier prospects, loaded Whitey Morgan & the 78’s with that survivors’ f.u. mentality. The self-titled debut Bloodshot album was recorded at Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock NY, and while their antecedents are pretty clear, Whitey and the boys play with a muscular attack and energy that makes us think they HAD to learn to play it that way to be heard over the din of the stamping plant and its ghosts.
With several songs based around the classic half-time drumbeat creating a tension between the languid and the hardheaded, others like Johnny Paycheck’s “Meanest Jukebox In Town” (with that killer Bob Wills-inflected fiddle) and “I Ain’t Drunk” kicking out the hard swing, and the badass boogie of “Buick City” and “Where Do Ya Want it?” (a song gifted to Whitey by Dale Watson, about an infamous shooting involving outlaw legend Billy Joe Shaver), the album’s got an edge that Nashville’s misplaced or forgotten entirely.
Lyrically, Whitey shows that he’s learned well at the feet of the masters. The well chosen covers are there (Paycheck, Billy Don Burns’ “Memories Cost A Lot”), but he crafts lines like “turn up the bottle, bartender, and turn up the Jones” that should slip into the honky-tonk canon as easy as a worn biker wallet into a back pocket.On “Hard Scratch Pride,” Whitey’s worker migration tale goes from the hollers of Kentucky to the factories of the North, when Detroit and Flint were still places to go to, and “Long Road Home” is a sinister, spaced out update on the Lost Highway.