Review – MORGAN

Album:  Morgan’s Deli 
Release Date:  Sept. 29, 2017
Genre: High-Bro, Low-Falutin’, Mutha-Punk’n Country

One Line Review:  Born from the ashes of their farmhouse that “accidentally” burned down, Quebec-based Morgan’s new album Morgan Deli is the Vandals, the Dead Milkmen, and Brand New if they were a concept-minded, downhome livin’ The Refreshments / Mavericks tribute band.

A Quote for Their Press Release:  “Simply, everyone here I would see at Manor’s Deli, having pre-lunch beers and engaging in socially acceptable, but easily over-indulged, vices.  This album, like this fall sunlit, yet still dim, bar, is an experience, a tale of country, punk, and pop, a collaboration of styles and mediums, like varying capped-captioned males drinking varying pints and chemically treated haired woman play VLTs or drink sympathetically.”

Full Review:

First off, you’re welcome!

Despite the absurdist length of this review, I acknowledge and recognize the sheer pleasure you will have taking the time to read, and possibly re-read this review.

If this is not you, then I am sorry for you and your life choices.

After burning down a barn and staring a band (for real, it is in their bio) Morgan releases Morgan Deli, a country-based, punk-inspired, foot-stompin’, chainsawed-touting, farm animal-drivin’, losin’-the-“g”-spellin’ extravaganza.

How so, you may ask?  Allow me to explain, in tedious, art-house style and pretentious self-indulgence.

Morgan Deli opens with the title track, giving the listener an aural menu of the vast buffet available at “Morgan Deli” (proper) including “drinking to you bleed” and other forms of basic debaucheries.  Establishing a setting in the opening track is reminiscent of the seminal Frank Zappa album Joe’s Garage, where listeners are introduced to a fictitious local with setting and characters.

“The Neverending Barbill” establishes a theme, which I am assuming will be reoccurring, of alcohol abuse, binge drinking, folklore story-telling and mythic gossiping to heightened levels of dedication and skill.  A well-placed breakdown heightens the dramatic action and taut tension.

After a bit of raucous, “Hold Your Hand” establishes a melodic, endearing relationship love song in the opening line before transgressing into a sorcery, Satanic song in the second.  A great double bill for Morgan would be the (Saskatoon-local) legendary Porksword who lovingly fused metal, punk, Satan, and farming with self-aware, completely serious, deliciously delirious, delivery.  The third act of “Hold Your Hand” has a radio play style vignette, reminiscent of NWA forwarding their lyrics and thematic content with spoken word, acted dialogue compete with foley (sound effects, not gardening…yes, I know the word is “foliage” but I worked hard to make that pun work).

The vignette transitions perfectly into the next track “I Think We’re Going to Jail” where the listener discovers the fate of our endearing, possibly hapless heroes and their inopportune run-in with the law.

Hold up…just a gawsh-darn second…have I found myself in the first third of a concept album, the first act finishing with song transitioning into the second act?

I’m stopping listening right now so I can finish his thought without ruining my own surprise.  As an avid fan, and self-proclaimed aficionado on concept records, it is a rare treat to discover one.  As an added bonus, unless I missed it, there is no reference to Morgan Deli being a concept record on the one-sheet (a fancy name for a professional summary) or in the band bio.

My now self-imposed needing-to-answer-question is, is this an intentional concept record, an odd coincidence concept album, or an album with an over-arching conceptual theme?

To this point, Morgan Deli has way more of a theme than the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, and that is considered the first released rock concept record.  It is…the Beatles based their version of a concept record based on Pet Sounds when, after hearing the Beach Boys record twice back to back in a hotel room, began directly working on Sgt. Peppers.  Beatles producer, often referred to as “the Fifth Beatle” George Martin was quoted as saying, “Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper never would have happened … Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds.”   Yeah, that’s right…come at me bro!

The story thus far: we have our introduction to “Morgans Deli” where the cast and characters are introduced that listeners will learn more about as the album continues. “The Neverending Barbill’ creates plot movement and action for our characters who, at least one, assuming our main character, falls in love in “Hold your Hand” only to be pulled over, presumably after a drunken celebration, possible engagement party (?), are trucked off to jail, a la Fred Flintstone / Barney Rubble style.

(Is anyone else concerned with how often Fred and Barney were arrested, and Wilma and Betty, even though they minded, forgave their respective husbands so easily?  Perhaps the modern woman could learn a lesson regarding forgiveness from two prehistoric, animated women.  Perhaps I should discontinue this subject before I receive a barrage of negative feedback.)

Officially, I am now not listening to the record, as previously stated, so I can finish my thoughts, prepare for Act II, and the possible discovery of a new concept album, and grab a beer.

Yes, despite my healthier eating choices, and losing a collective ten pounds over the last couple reviews, I feel a frosty pint is part of the Morgan Deli experience.  Indeed, if I could go to a physical Morgan Deli, I would start with a brew or two and go from there.  As a music journalist, and lazy musicologist, I am immersing myself in the listening experience by becoming part of the project itself which, could it not be argued, is the goal of any artist, to inspire their audience to be willing, active participants in their work?

Well, Morgan, this listener is engaged and ready to go!  Now for Act II, or track five, depending on the perilous weighting of this possible concept album.

I chat with the bartender a bit first, when she sees my furiously typing on my phone, in NotePad nonetheless, and starting conversations as bartenders are known to do.

The hunchbacked, elderly gentleman down the bar coughs loudly with wet lungs, obviously afflicted with a pulmonary infection.

Two construction workers come in for lunchtime beers and food and VLT machines.

The handlebar moustache, Sobeys ball cap wearing, Keith drinking, crossword filling gentleman across from me is an obvious regular based on his casual conversation and relaxed candor with the jean-vested, long stripped dress wearing bartender.

There is a curly haired woman at the VLTs behind me that I only know from the back of her head as she has yet to turn around from the Power Keno machine with its flashing dull lights and falling digital balls.

I also noticed that, besides myself and one other person, all the males, regardless of age, are wearing ball caps. Wait, one is a peaked cap, like Andy Capp style, but headwear still the same.

Why the extended exposition of my surroundings, you ask?  Simply, everyone here I would see at Manor’s Deli, having pre-lunch beers and engaging in socially acceptable, but easily over-indulged, vices.  This album, like this fall sunlit, yet still dim, bar, is an experience, a tale of country, punk, and pop, a collaboration of styles and mediums, like varying capped-captioned males drinking varying pints and chemically treated haired woman play VLTs or drink sympathetically.

Why am I here?  I walked by, listening to the album and, at track four, it needed to be done, to experience the album to its conceptual heights.

Also, admittedly, I have trepidation continuing the album in case my concept album theory is torn to pieces and my personal build up, and excitement is for nought.  As a composer of two concept albums, a fan of many, it is a lost art, I feel, and I am always excited to find a new project to add to the fold.  Or club.  Invitation club. With secret handshakes.  And oversized, embossed rings.

Ok…ready for track five…

Wait…meeting my guitar player for lunch.  Ok, then back the album.  The nice thing with the printed word is the lack of time lapse, unless the writer obviously states, or creates, it.

Yep…no time lapse at all.

Zero.

Zilch.

Zippo.  Like the lighter, but with less scalding.

No, I did not have lunch and lengthy conversations with everyone around me…

Nope. Not at all.

Yep, no time lapse here at all, timeline here is tighter than a….

And back to the album!

And by back to the album I mean back into the fall sunlight many hours after my lame time lapse gag.

My eyes feel dry.  Is that a good sign?

I yawned and they watered again.  Winning!

The VLTs are very busy now.   The ratio of hat wearing men has not changed, however.

Still not at track five yet.  *sigh*.

Might walk to the comic book store and grab a few titles.  Good choice!

Made a funny joke to the man sitting next to me at the bar that, while I went to the bathroom, he could spike my drink with one roofie but not two, as two was way too much.

I had to repeat the joke a few times and was disappointed he had no sense of humour.

On reflection, he has not been there as long as I have, and perhaps my humour is not as funny as I first thought.

Why are there four bartenders for fifteen Clients?

Why am I yawning so much?

Overweight Elvis in a yellow shirt just showed up.  No, it’s not Danzig, but looks like his lazy cousin. Yes, yes indeed.

I make no promises where I am…

Beer photo?

Might get a small pizza despite the extra 2,000 calories.

There’s a Lotto Max advertisement sign that looks like an underwater aquarium.  Is that weird?

Just listened to George Carlin on YouTube for a half hour.    Back to review anytime…soon …ish…

*Details here have been taken out for professional, and personal, reasons.  Hunter S. Thompson would not be impressed, but he would approve.*

So, track five…

“Kiss the Town Goodbye” is our protagonists fleeing town, presumably avoiding jail time or making a grand escape leading listeners into “Running For My Life” which makes sense, if you were leaving your past behind, then running into trouble while leading an outlaw, gun touting, bounty hunting, quick draw life adventure.

“Porcupine” is the comic relief section after a gunfight, a sense of relief to ease the audience allowing the story to create further tension later on, such as the laboring romantic “On the Docks,” allowing a glimpse into the life of hard-drinking, hard-working, hard-living shore workers, and self-aware anthem  “Gunfight”, where the protagonist, “a dead man lying on the ground” reflects on the “day I’m gonna die / might have been the best day of my life”, and profoundly stating “you will never win a gunfight with a knife” which, unfortunately, may be the realization of the narrator’s undoing.

“Fixing the Chainsaw” and “Mow the Lawn” express the shear (sheer) joy of lawn work, the importance of sharing a bond with ones “grass machine,” and how a finely tuned lawnmower can outlast many finely tuned human relationships.   As certain Zen approach is introduced as women are told to “put their shirts back on” as the narrator is just there to mow the lawn; the fine art of lawn mowing at its finest.

The closer “Whiskey and Beer” is the energetic, sing-along, moment of self-realization where our protagonist looks back upon his life experiences and states, without defeat, more as an affirmation of knowing where one is in one’s station in life, and deciding now if being “lost and stranded” is the end of the story, or a new outlook is developing after being “drunk and unstable for too many years,” a giving a final toast to the “good times we had and the good times we lost”, a poignant wrap-up to a threaded narrative.

Now, the big question: does Morgan’s new album Morgan Deli pass the concept album test?  Is there a concept album test?  If not, I should create one…

One the basis of a consistent theme from song to song, in the way Pet Sounds is considered a concept album, then Morgan Deli gets a huge, drunk porcupine sized check mark!  The album’s themes of outlaw country living, farming, labouring, drinking, shooting, barn animal befriending, and debauchery are amazingly executed and well-written with various narrative and character voices appearing and reappearing like the cast of an off-Broadway stage play, or the Barn Theatre Play House, as it is in Saskatchewan.

(Morgan Deli should be written as a one-act musical and performed at the Barn Theatre Play House in Saskatchewan.  If someone out there applies for funding, I will write, cast, and direct such an artistic venture.  Let’s do it, people!)

One of the basis of following a linear story from front to back, I would say “yes” for Act I and II of the album, and a “semi-yes” for Act III, unless the third act is exploring different characters not discussed in the first two acts, then a bigger, more drunken porcupine “yes!”

After reading all of this, if you are still reading, Morgan Deli is an expertly written, arranged, performed, and produced album, melding old-school country with quirky alternative punk, barber shop / Beach Boy / No-FX / Bad Religion do-wop background vocals, and more style than the First Place Prize belt buckle from the Calgary Stampede.

If a smartly done, high-brow, low-falutin’, country punk album is not for you, pick up Enya’s Greatest Hits and dance barefoot, waving glittering rhythm scarves attached to found tree branches, in the public park downtown.  If you want to stomp your feet while spilling whisky and beer on your sheep, then this is the album for you!

Again, you’re welcome!

Morgan’s new record Morgan Deli is released through Stomp Records and available on iTunes, Google Play, Bandcamp, palmaresadisq.ca, newnoisemagazine.com, Spotify, and wherever else beer-swillin’ interweb searches can find it.  Follow them on Facebook and YouTube, once you rebuild your barn, that is… 

The Riz is a prolific multi-genre songwriter, lyricist, writer and bassist for “Demolition Rock” sensation Ultimate Power Duo. A staple of the Saskatoon music scene, he has toured extensively across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. The Riz is also the composer and saxophone player for R. Muttering, an avant-garde soundscape improvisational electro-acoustic performance art and recording group. Besides his Bachelor of Music in Music Education (B. Mus. (Mus. Ed.) / B. Ed. (Mus.)) from the University of Saskatchewan, he has amazing comic and vinyl collections.

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