Born in Houston and now based in L.A., country-rocker Sam Morrow is well-versed in the wide variety of musical styles born in the south. On Concrete and Mud (out March 30 on Forty Below Records), Morrow effortlessly blends countrified rock, Muscle Shoals soul and revved up honky tonk.
On his latest, Morrow builds on the rollicking, lyrics-driven songs of his 2015 album There is No Map. Steeped in southern swagger, Concrete and Mud is Morrow's arrival as one of SoCal's premiere country-rock troubadours.
Morrow says the album is a combination of his various music influences, as well as the artistic fabric of his homeland and adopted city.
"I think L.A.'s diversity of music is what influences me the most," Morrow told Wide Open Country. "This album is a meting pot of all different kinds of music that I listen to. There's definitely a bit of a Americana and country music revival in L.A. and it's so great to watch it grow and be apart of it. This record is a real product of where I came from, the south, and where I am, Los Angeles."
Listen to the album below.
Concrete and Mud kicks off with "Heartbreak Man," which finds Morrow playing the role of a rambling rocker who won't let love, lust or anything else get in the way of the beckoning highway.
"East coast, west coast in between/ don't get in the way of a man chasin' his dreams," he sings. "You know you're never gonna piece together a heartbreak man."
Morrow mixes the country-funk of Jerry Reed and Tony Joe White with the southern groove of Little Feat and Lynyrd Skynyrd on the road-weary anthem "Paid By the Mile" and the sultry "Quick Fix."
"Since my last record, I had the opportunity tour quite a bit which encouraged me to learn more covers. I dove back into artists such as Little Feat, Waylon, Willie, Skynyrd, Dr. John, The Meters. The list goes on," Morrow says. "I began to focus much more on groove than I had in records past."
Produced by Morrow's songwriting partner (and Forty Below Records founder) Eric Corne, much of the album was recorded live on a vintage Neve 8068 console. Morrow says being open to innovation (and taking a few cues from a godfather of southern rock) let the record take on a life of its own.
"Having made two records before I was much more familiar with the whole process. I was able to voice ideas more aptly and be more receptive of ideas from all of my cohorts. I'm so lucky to record with some of the most talented people I know," Morrow says. "All the players were involved heavily in the whole process. Eric Corne and I have built a great working relationship where we aren't afraid to share ideas and take chances. This led to things like putting a Wurlitzer through a phaser pedal and serial compression on a slide guitar, the Lowell George way."
One of the album's many standout moments is the reflective "Good Ole Days," which takes off the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia and stomps on them, pointedly calling out the sexism ("a pretty face didn't have a voice, a woman, well, she didn't get no choice") and racism ("segregation on the buses, in the diners and country clubs) prevalent in what those with "selective recollection" call the good ole days. "Tell me how you love them good ole days," Morrow growls over the twang of a Telecaster.
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Fellow West Coast country artist Jaime Wyatt, who lends vocals to three songs on the album, plays Emmylou to Morrow's Gram Parsons on the freewheeling Sin City shuffle "Skinny Elvis." "You ain't no player just because you sing the song," Wyatt and Morrow sing, taking on the little-less-conversation-a-little-more-action strut of The King himself. "Take your neon lights and, baby, bang a gong." Legendary pedal steel player Jay Dee Maness, who's played with Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and The Byrds, lends a heavy dose of Bakersfield to the track.
Channeling the steel-driven alt-country of Son Volt and Whiskeytown, "Coming Home" finds Morrow leaving an "amphetamine queen" for a simpler life and a sweeter love.
Fittingly, the record ends with the rootsy "Mississippi River," an acoustic ode to the river that "flows from the northern prairie to the delta down south" and the music that binds the land and people together.
Sam Morrow is currently on tour across the U.S.