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  • Writer's pictureCHRIS FARLIE

Morganway - Back To Zero

There are few bands that #TEAMw21 have actually lobbied on behalf of - however Morganway are one of them. At different times we have cajoled both Bob Harris and Mark Hagen of BBC2 Music in the wisdom of featuring this band, such is our belief in them. Their position as UK Americana's most exciting live band is unparalleled - no-one comes close in matching them for the combination of energy, musicianship and sheer showmanship. The question, much as it was at the time of their first album is how do you capture that essence in a recorded version? The benefits are that you get a perfect balance - Matt's keyboard contributions for instance are far more audible than in an average live show where they are sometimes reliant on a top class sound engineer to bring them fully to the fore - the negatives being that they cannot record the sheer amount of energy that the band give with each show.

The album opens with "Wait For Me" one of a number of singles released to the market ahead of the albums release - It still sounds fresh many months later - it remains an all out assault on the senses from the very off - Ed's drumming sets a fearsome insistent beat and for Morganway, a comparatively muted almost jangly guitar sound sets the scene for SJ's opening vocals.

"I move in the space between heartbeats - I speak in the thoughts between words - I go unheard"

The chorus sees a face off between Nicole Terry's fiddle and SJ's delivery - it's a score draw - Nicole keeps up the urgency of the beat while Ed's drumming has subsided, meanwhile SJ powers out the vocals but this is just a taster of what is to come, a mere soupcon of the drama to unfold. By the second half of the chorus everyone has joined in, not only on their own instruments but on backing vocals as well - you can try to concentrate and pick out your favourite bit or just let it wash over you like the musical tsunami that it is.

The song apparently is about the band experience, keeping the band together and as one of the few folk to see Morganway operate a member down on three occasions it is hard to underestimate just what a vital part each member plays in making the band tick. A show without Nicole's fiddle and stomping left the band strangely static and shows without Ed's drumming lacked the usual driving impetus - they would still blow most other bands offstage but it was no longer the sum of all of the parts.

Two thirds of the way through there appears to be a brief respite in proceedings as things slow and SJ fiercely screams "We chose this life" but it's a false dawn, as we will soon once again explode into action with a pulsating blend of musicality matched by SJ's "Wait, Wait For Me Now"'s and a host of different backing vocals. Even in this all out gallop to the end, there are little pieces to be picked out such as the three notes Matt picks out over the closing section, that almost echo the "Yeah Yeah Yeah's" on the chorus of "She Loves You"

It concludes with SJ crying "I'm reaching out" on possibly the most exhilarating four minutes of the year so far.

Billed as a song about "wildness, temptation, danger and twisted love” - "Come Over" grabs you by the lapels from the very start with its moody opening, Ed's thumping drumbeat is matched by Kieran's opening guitar riffs which lay the groundwork for AJ to lay down the opening verse which certainly seems to live up to its billing

"There's a knot in my heart

I'm strong yet torn apart

I feel danger - lying with strangers

Who don't know me at all"

SJ almost fires off each syllable of that closing line

The chorus when it comes is an aural explosion assaulting your ear drums on all levels, guitars, multiple voices, Nicole Terry's fiddle sounding like a whole string section such is its power, all meshing together as one. There's a searing guitar solo which builds in intensity as it combines with Nicole's fiddle and a section of vocals and guitar with the sound swirling like a hazy dream.

The third track in what can only be described as a barn storming opening - is "World Stopped Running" and if there is any disappointment about this song, it is that the UK has not taken it to their heart and that it is not being sung from every street corner. When Morganway emerged from their covid enforced lay off they emerged with a clutch of new songs and none stood out more than "World Stopped Running" with its rousing audience participation chorus.This song seemingly needed little explanation for an audience to know their part and every time #TEAMw21 have seen it played live, it never fails to deliver and stir an audience - even the most reluctant wallflower can be found bellowing out their own backing vocals with some gusto.

For this song SJ Mortimer relinquishes lead vocals to Callum Morgan who has never sounded better, but then this is a Morganway song and so all of the band will contribute vocals at some point adding to the overall brilliance of the track, Things begin a bit like the ride up to the start of a rollercoaster - the opening intro of Matt's keyboard, twinning for a change with Nicole's fiddle are then joined by Ed Bullinger's drums which steadily build, and then whoosh we are off into the incessant hook line, and never look back from there as we go on the ride of a lifetime.

As to what it is about - the phrase "World Stopped Running" is not used in the context of a documentary detailing how things ground to a halt - it is more about the opposite saying "We're not going to keep moving - it is time to stop and face things. The opening rallying cry

"It's time to get up on your feet - it's time to listen to the beat

There'll be no-one left asleep - feel the people on the street"

is matched by the exuberance, the freedom, of times changing in the second verse

"I want to live this day with you - I want to climb a mountain to

They tried to hide what's true, but we're heading somewhere new"

There's time for a brief respite in the middle to catch your breath, and for Kieran's guitar become more prominent but then it's a glorious race to the finish. It's a track that makes you feel uplifted and glad to be alive.

"Burn Every Page" is one song hat has yet to materialize into a live performance - although it would easily fit in as another tour de force from SJ. The guitar work in the early verses is reminiscent of the Siouxsie & The Banshees circa Happy House" era while the second half of the song becomes something of a rock extravaganza with Kieran living out any "Rock God" fantasies he may harbour.

"The Sweetest Goodbye" is another song that rarely if ever features in a live show and yet is one of Morganway's most divine constructions. It begins as just SJ and Matt's piano and not having to battle to be heard above the rest of the band allows SJ to capture her most delicate vocal to date. Nicole Terry joins the proceedings midway through with playing so beautiful it all but brings a tear to the eye. the subject matter is definitely as moving and tender as the tune

"But don't be a stranger - I never wanted to change you

There is something deeper

I believe you're a friend

You wrote the Sweetest Goodbye"

If you have the vinyl version of the album, the second half commences with "We Were Going Nowhere" which is something of a group chant - musically it seems to repeat the same sequence again and again which perhaps makes it pale against some of the songs around it however there is still plenty to admire in those harmonies and Nicoles fiddle playing.

Morganway have a number of songs that are almost set pieces, they are not just songs in the normal sense, they are songs within songs within songs, each with its own section - "The Man" is one such song, the opening section is moody, SJ with Ed and Nicole

"I called for you - in the darkness of my night

I'm in awe of you but I still can't make my mind

I fall for you and take you for the ride because ..."

The chorus sees the song speed up and the band materialise

"Sometimes I see you hold the world in your hands

Running through mountains over the Badlands

When will I see you be The Man"

The closure of the track see a full band race to the finish with Kieran's guitar and SJ's Whooping leading the way along with her fearsome iterations of the final line of the chorus.

The title track of "Back To Zero" comes in at track 8, very much sums up the last few years with expectations having to be put on hold and reset. It is initially another wall of sound song, attacking the senses from the off - it then subsides to be one of the most overtly pop tracks in the Morganway catalogue to date with Nicole's fiddle very much taking prominence although of course there are harmonies awash all over the track.

Undoubtedly the oddest track on the album is the closing track "Brother" which sees Callum take on a sort of Al Stewart "On The Border" style vocal as he sends a message to Kieran. One reason it stands out is that Kieran's guitar makes the most muted of appearances. It seems to be a song about separating after spending so many of their formative years together.

" The only life we know is shared - every single moment - the weight we have to bear

But you don't have to choose, I know you understand - I've seen you go and I know you can"

As an album "Back To Zero" more than delivers, it has succeeded in all that it set out to do seemingly capturing the most mobile of bands and managing to retain that sheer sense of excitement that they always generate. With their third album already in the can with new songs being trailed at live shows - the future looks exciting and lets hope for no more resets!




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