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Sam Morrow Explores Genre and Society on Third Record 'Concrete and Mud'

Photo: Chris Phelps

Sam Morrow has crafted a deep and heavy album that indicates his maturing songwriting, performing, and attention to themes apparent in American society and his own life.

Concrete and Mud
Sam Morrow

Forty Below

30 March 2018

In the closing track to his third album, Concrete and Mud, Sam Morrow sings of "independent thinkers" amid the division of the "Mississippi River" and the unity it provides for the American identity. The song and its lyrical themes are a strong bookend to an excellent album and its opposite, opener "Heartbreak Man", where Morrow weaves country roots with a harder guitar edge to speak of combining his roots with the environment he lives, or Texas with California. Altogether, Concrete and Mud is a political album that challenges our differences, the mythologized American past, and the realities we as a people face together despite our differences. It's rockin' and relevant as hell, too.

Morrow's past and influences clearly across this strong, mature record. Concrete and Mud is built less on a country focus, and more of a grooving take on how Morrow got to his station and what he's seen in this life. Songs take biographical sketches and combine those with striking political themes seamlessly. The album never backs down either. Starting from a rocker-country infusion on "Heartbreak Man" through an immediate follow-up funky sound exploration on "Paid By the Mile", to a slow and steady jam "San Fernando Sunshine". Lead-off single "Quick Fix" is even funkier, combining a driving beat with soaring guitar work that makes Morrow's ability to genre-blend hard to ignore.

"Good Ole Days" highlights the album's definite political swagger directly, and Morrow sings about problems from societal divisions clouded when Americans think to past eras. Converse to the seriousness of witches hanged, effects of segregation and prejudice, and drug laws in Morrow's lyrics, the music is upbeat, driving, and charts an effectively dynamic referencing what the idea of a "Good Ole Days" hides. It's fast paced when the lyrics seem to imply lingering on events that mask realities.

Combined with the slow drawl of "The Weight of a Stone", the middle section of Concrete and Mud is critical of American society in unique and forceful ways. Morrow never condemns harshly but provides thoughtful explorations of the consequences of negativity and division. Here loss takes center focus, and the guitar solo backed with eerie organs creates imagery as effective as Morrow's lyrics as if the sky darkens more for the second half of the song and maybe even the album. The song fades out over a minute in carefully delicate instrumentation, building and then slowing to a soft decline. There's no time for recovery before the fuzzy guitar and duet with Jaime Wyatt on "Skinny Elvis" takes off. This is a fun and interesting track that compares past with past, celebrating and dismissing the impact of celebrity, ultimately incorporating the most striking country element on the album – a dynamic steel guitar solo that intercuts the fuzziness.

Pulling these explorative stylistic components together was achieved with Morrow's writing partner and producer Eric Corne, together for this third album, but with more admitted experimentation in the recording process. Still, Morrow's ambitions and lifelong dreams center the album. "Coming Home" is a direct track talking about Morrow's return and the positivity that includes, but is followed by fear and worry imparted by an unnamed agent in "Cigarettes" (unnamed indeed). It's a sharp focus on Morrow's sobriety and his measures to retain that in his life, despite every other lyrical segue and articulated issue represented across Concrete and Mud.

Despite a brisk running time, just under 40 minutes, Sam Morrow has crafted a deep and heavy album that indicates his maturing songwriting, performing, and attention to themes apparent in American society and his own life. Returning to the closing track, "Mississippi River", the song compliments a gospel tinge with admiration for generalized American landmarks. To end Concrete and Mud, Morrow highlights the passionate divisions in a "land of contradictions", yet stronger as a result. Representing the multi-faceted stylistic explorations, the song is uplifting and demonstrates "Concrete and Mud" as opposites and necessarily complimentary for success. Enjoyable, but not cliched, Concrete and Mud is a strong statement for a young musician, looking at modern times with an eye for the past, and hopefulness for a future yet determined and not derailed.

8

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