Cory Morrow just released his ninth studio album (and first in three years), Whiskey And Pride. Recorded once again outside Austin in the Texas Hill Country at a Dripping Springs studio about as old as Morrow's career, Whiskey And Pride is perhaps his most freewheeling and varied album yet.
Crafted, once again, with the help of the legendary Lloyd Maines, the 13 tracks on the record run the gamut from raucous to reserved.
Keeping It Fresh
For all its blue collar stoicism, Texas country can run the risk of feeling predictable, if not stale. The heroes of the genre are aging while the once exciting crop of rabble rousers are sending their kids to high school and college.
And though there's certainly wisdom to appreciate in the songs these life experiences yield, you can only hear so many songs about taking it "one step at a time" or just "appreciating life" before it starts to feel trite. Which is why album opener "Restless" is such a welcome narrative. It doesn't pretend to feel like Houston native Morrow has it all figured out just because you're "supposed to" by your mid-40s.
"Everybody is struggling with something, and that's just a fact," Morrow tells Wide Open Country. "Internally or externally, everybody has something they're battling with. It's really good to get together and talk about. And sometimes it leads to really good songs."
That's not to say Morrow doesn't thoroughly cover the theme of appreciating a nice day. "Breath" is probably his sappiest dad moment on the record. But there's an almost theatrical delivery to his vocal throughout the record that is quite simply engaging.
And then there's "Let's Take This Outside," a song that makes exponentially more sense when you understand the backstory. "We were asked to write a song for a ministry called Majesty Outdoors," Morrow says. The organization provides experiences and support for fatherless children, largely through outdoor hunting and fishing experiences.
"These kids don't know this kind of unconditional love and generosity, and man it just changes their lives," he says. So if it feels like the album dips into religious overtones, that's intentional.
And really, Morrow has always brought a bit of a revival vibe to his live performances. He also wears his religiosity on his sleeve. But on Whiskey and Pride perhaps more than any other record, Morrow reaches for delivering religious experiences.
For the casual listener, some moments are more memorable than others. Perhaps the pinnacle of Morrow's heart is "Daisy Diane," a song named for his daughter and inspired by his late mother-in-law.
"Before [Daisy] was born, my wife's mother passed away unexpectedly," Morrow says. "It's been 18 months now, and it's been a painful season watching them try to find a new normal; they don't want to find a new normal. She was the glue for the family and the family has been trying to figure out how to get back together without her."
One evening, Morrow's wife and her dad were gathered around the kitchen island sharing stories and words about her late mother. "I just started writing down the things they were saying," he says. He tooled the song as both a message to the newborn and a tribute to the late Diane's spirit. It's one of the finest moments in all of Morrow's songwriting career.
One things that shouldn't escape any listener, longtime or brand new, is the depth Morrow goes to deliver compelling performances. And not just "whoops and hollers," as he mentions. There's a certain level of sincerity in Morrow's delivery that might feel dramatic in the studio, but translates wonderfully through the speakers.
"I think as I'm getting older, I try to think more and more about the words every night," Morrow says. "I try to be in the moment of the song and to remember why we wrote it. To translate that to the audience so they feel the weight of what the song has become."
In that vein, Morrow is particularly proud of the cast of co-writers on the record. They include Texas mainstays like Kyle Hutton, Drew Womack, Briane Keane and a host of others. Hutton also had a hand in bringing in Jamie Lin Wilson to sing some background vocals, most notably on the studio version of "Always and Forever" -- a 20-year-old song that is just now finally getting a widespread studio album version.
In the end, what Morrow and company came up with is a thoroughly authentic representation of Morrow's past few years while largely managing to avoid the typical trap of Texas country complacency.