A sermon in outlaw country under the guise of a live album is the only way to preface Born, Raised & LIVE from Flint by Whitey Morgan & the 78’s. Holding court on the hometown stage of Flint, Michigan’s the Machine Shop, Morgan and cohorts deliver a Rust Belt tent revival, extolling both vice and virtue on this recording that followed the 2010 release of their self-titled sophomore album. Packed with chicken picking, pedal steel and low E twang, the bar band with a pedigree conjures ghosts of the past and reinterprets lingering souls on their 13-track epistle of front-to-back country righteousness.
Revving up the festivities with “Buick City” from the band’s 2010 self-titled release, Morgan wastes no time in paying homage to his forbearers by dispensing fatherly advice courtesy of Johnny Paycheck’s “Cocaine Train”. Mixing originals with songs penned by the likes of Dale Watson, Bruce Springsteen and John Loudermilk that have appeared on Morgan’s recordings, there is a cohesiveness of sound throughout despite the disparate influences. Asking the crowd if they “want some Bruce”, Morgan reconstitutes the sexual tension of “I’m on Fire” into a series of slurred roadhouse pick-up lines. Loudermilk’s “Bad News”, which Johnny Cash took to the top ten of the country charts as a giggling joke, is transformed into a slinking roadmap of wrongs committed. “Where Do You Want It”, Watson’s recounting of “outlaw” Billy Joe Shaver’s 2007 misadventures in Waco, Texas, closes the band’s set, perhaps signifying its unwritten standing as this century’s outlaw anthem.
As on his studio albums, Morgan’s sleight of hand leaves you questioning the provenance of his originals. “Cheatin’ Again” from 2008’s debut album, Honky Tonks and Cheap Motels, rings familiar to anyone having grown up with classic country playing on their parents’ car radio. Even with name-checking George Jones on “Turn Up the Bottle” and Jerry Reed, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash et al on “Another Round”, any child of the ‘70s would attest to the rhythms of these songs being ingrained in their minds.
Offering up minimal stage banter, Morgan lets the 78’s and the music do the proselytizing, allowing each band member a turn to solo, adding color and filling in blank spaces to bring the point home time and again. In the moment, revelers may have not noticed this redundancy but on the recording it becomes pre-determined by the album’s midpoint. Scheduled in advance as a live recording, one can’t fault Morgan for going all out. Sadly, the recording takes a rickety bow on the encore, a cover of Hank Williams’ “Mind Your Own Business”. Tacked on without any crowd anticipation, introduction or closing missive, the faithful rendering leaves the listener wondering what else was played that night in November 2011 that accounted for the next morning’s collective hangover of those who attended the concert.
A Telecaster does not a country star make; with songs like “I Ain’t Drunk” and “Honky Tonk Queen” deserving of canonization as modern standards, Whitey Morgan & the 78s are living, breathing exemplars of outlaw country past and present. Born, Raised & LIVE from Flint is a primer on how honky tonk’s done, demonstrating no new spin is required.