On 2016’s Scofflaw, Clint Morgan dove into the ethos of the American outlaw, using a savvy mix of self-penned numbers and non-originals to go beneath the myths and legends of figures from Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday, and Clyde Barrow to D.B. Cooper. Set against a rich tapestry of blues, boogie, country-roots-rock, and R&B, it was hugely entertaining and hugely enlightening, a sweeping Americana masterpiece.
If the new Troublemaker has an overarching concept, it’s the way Morgan plays with the tropes of the blues to make penetrating points about the world we live in now. The tone on the surface is generally more lighthearted. “Ain’t That the Blues,” for instance, sends up the tendency of the genre toward self-pity (“I wish I had a baseball mitt to help me catch my breath”), and “I’ll Love You If I Want To” plays up the macho posturing. “It’s Rough Out There” focuses on the very real struggles of everyday folks, but in Morgan’s typically droll way (“I got a car / I got no gas / I get my exercise pushing it”), and “Too Rich to Sing the Blues” skewers the out-of-touch super-wealthy (“The sky is crying / The tears are running down the street / I’m not sure what the problem is / Things look pretty good to me”).
He also revisits his 2008 song, “Somebody Put a Walmart on the Farm,” this time with Kinky Friedman. And with Bob Margolin and Watermelon Slim, he pines to make “The Cover of the Living Blues,” putting his own spin on the old Shel Silverstein hit for Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, “The Cover of the Rolling Stone.”
But Morgan also hits home when he plays it completely straight, as on the starkly sober “Hurricane Harvey,” with John Del Toro Richardson, and the haunting “Echoes.”
A master boogie pianist himself, Morgan is joined here by another stellar cast of musicians, including his co-producer, fellow keyboardist Kevin McKendree, and they craft another intoxicating stew of roots sounds. As much as anything else here, the way he makes Johnny Cash’s “Big River” flow into Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say,” making them seem of a piece, points up what an original Morgan is himself.