If you've followed Craig Morgan's career as a country singer or his recurring role as a reality television star, then you know that the title of his new album God Family Country represents more than buzzwords strung together by the folks at Broken Bow Records. Instead, it sums up what matters most to a Christian father and husband who served in the United States Army before finding success with mid-aughts hit "That's What I Love About Sunday" and other sentimental statements.
Songs on the new album, out May 22, share a lot about Morgan's life twenty years after Atlantic Records issued his self-titled debut album. Country music's always been a space for artists to tell stories as characters-- Johnny Cash never shot a man or flew a starship, after all. Yet throughout Morgan's career, his own work as a singer-songwriter and his interpretations of others' songs typically contain autobiographical elements.
That's truer than ever this time around, whether Morgan's sharing how faith helped his family make it through his son Jerry's 2016 death with "The Father, My Son and The Holy Ghost" or when he's covering Gavin DeGraw's "Soldier" one track later.
"The Father, My Son and The Holy Ghost" quickly became a fan favorite after such memorable moments as its absolutely gut-wrenching debut at the Opry House in March 2019 and a Kelly Clarkson Show performance that left Clarkson and Blake Shelton in tears.
"I find that every time I do that song, no matter where it's at or who's listening, there tends to be that emotion," Morgan says. "Even if you haven't experienced that personally, you can still relate. It's not a negative emotion. It's a positive emotion... An emotion of comfort. For me, it's a message of hope. Even though you are experiencing something so drastically traumatic, there is hope knowing that we have our Savior."
Sentimentality abounds on an album also featuring an autobiographical title track, first heard on 2003's I Love It, and a remastered version of "Lotta Man (In That Little Boy)," a 2005 song that could pass as a John Michael Montgomery weeper from 20-plus years ago.
It's not all old-school flashbacks for your Memorial Day playlist on God Family Country, as those songs represent just part of the vision Morgan brings to each album.
"I have a set of criteria that when I'm recording an album I absolutely must meet with every song," he says. "That is, I want to play songs that country radio can play. I don't expect them to and I know they can't play them all, but I want them to be able to. Secondly, I want to record songs I can enjoy singing and that I can deliver. It's hard to meet that criteria all the time, but we work hard at trying to do that."
"I try to find music that in some way pays tribute in some degree or has the nuances of the traditional sound, but I don't want it to be so much so that a new listener might not gravitate to it," he adds. "It has to have that modern touch, as well, whether it's a unique melody or a particular sound instrumentally or a vocal transition or something. There has to be something in that. For example, 'Whiskey' is a very traditional-sounding song, but not so much so that someone who's never heard country wouldn't enjoy it."
On the flipside, when Morgan embraces Nashville's party-hearty ways, he never loses sight of the true meaning of God Family Country. When asked about "Sippin' on the Simple Life" and its use of Toby Keith-style humor, Morgan explained how it puzzle-pieces into an album with five new songs and five remastered cuts from his back catalog.
"I think it's important that we have songs that cover the gamut of the emotions of people in our format," Morgan says. "While talking about the subject matter for me, God family and country, that talks about the simple life. All the stuff that we value in our lifestyle--the country lifestyle, so to speak--we celebrate that. It's kind of like a modern version of 'Redneck Yacht Club' is what I said."
Even emotional roller coaster "Going Out Like This," which Morgan instantly described as "sexy," fits a larger narrative about faith, hope and love.
"That's the husband and wife," Morgan says. "In today's time when it's so easy to give up, that's a song that says, 'Hey, we're not going out like that.'"
God Family Country Track List
- "The Father, My Son and The Holy Ghost" (Craig Morgan)
- "Soldier" (Gavin DeGraw)
- "Going Out Like This" (Craig Morgan, Michael Rogers, Korey Hunt, Sam Banks)
- "Whiskey" (Anthony Smith, Sarah Beth Terry)
- "Sippin' On The Simple Life" (Craig Morgan, Michael Rogers, Justin Wright, Andrew Yacovone)
- "God, Family and Country" (Craig Morgan, Craig Morris, Lance McDaniel)
- "That's What I Love About Sunday" (Adam Dorsey, Mark Narmore)
- "My Kind Of Woman" (Craig Morgan, Phil O'Donnell, Jason Sellers)
- "Almost Home" (Craig Morgan, Kerry Kurt Phillips)
- "Lotta Man (In That Little Boy)" (Craig Morgan, Phil O'Donnell, Tim Owens)