The history of country music has no shortage of characters hit by hard luck: the hard-working man who can’t seem to make ends meet, the heart-of-gold drunk who just can’t seem to put down the bottle, the woman who wants to do right but ends up, time and again, doing wrong. No matter the tragedies at the center of the songs, in most cases those characters come off like just that — characters; inventions of either a particularly gifted songwriter looking to spin a tall tale or a lazy one looking to pad out an album. But in the case of Whitey Morgan, those characters — the drinker, the troublemaker, the struggling, hard-working man — all seem arrestingly real.
That’s largely because the stories on Sonic Ranch — a big, nasty, whiskey-slugging, bare-knuckle bruiser of a country record — are pulled from Morgan’s own back pages.
A native of the economically depressed city of Flint, Michigan, Morgan practically bleeds straight into each of the album’s 10 songs, making for a kind of rough-and-tumble honky-tonk noir record that can pack the dance floor while doing Bukowski proud. Morgan opens the record at a loss — “I gave up on Jesus/ When momma gave up on me/ So much for the family life/ It’s just me and the whiskey,” he growls in the album’s opening moments — and spends the rest of it fighting to keep the rest from being wrenched away, bottle by his side, fists clenched. “If I’m going down tonight,” he defiantly sings, “I’m going down drinkin.'”