Morgan Wallen’s Small-Town Country Songs, Aimed at a Big Audience


Whiskey. Bourbon. Beer. Tequila. Pickups. Bars with jukeboxes. Boots. Rivers. Starry sky. A small town in the south. And many girls: in bars, in trucks, in boots, by rivers, under the starry sky, and very much like on top. Morgan Wallen, born and raised in Sneedville, eastern Tennessee, the son of a Baptist pastor, checked out almost every one of the 30 songs (32 in a deluxe version) on his second album, “Dangerous: The Double Album.” In America’s rural-urban divide there is no question which side he is on.

Wallen’s little town is an idyllic fantasy, an escape to a rural Neverland. It is a place with red dirt roads and unlocked doors, a refuge from the claims and snobbery of cities, a home for simple pleasures like fishing, drinking and sex. The homely hinterland in the south is not only Wallen’s territory. He shares it with many country hitmakers, particularly members of the Florida Georgia Line who have been Wallen’s booster and guest singers and rely on many of the same collaborating songwriters.

The 27-year-old Wallen has determinedly and repeatedly staked out his small town area. His first hit single – after becoming known nationwide as a candidate for “The Voice” in 2014 – was “The Way I Talk” in 2016, which proclaimed: “I’m not ashamed, actually I’m damn proud / the kind how I talk, all of you. “

He reaffirmed his priorities in the first single he released from “Dangerous” in May. A big country hit, “More Than My Hometown,” chooses residence over romance. The cover showed a highway sign pointing to Sneedville; The lyrics tell the girl he loves to let her go where the “bright lights” called her because “I can’t love you more than my hometown.”

In real life, Wallen has grappled with temptations beyond small-town life. He was arrested and charged with public poisoning and disorderly behavior in downtown Nashville: the incident inspired the song “Dangerous,” in which he warns himself it is better not to go out. In October, he lost his first chance to appear on Saturday Night Live after showing up on social media without a mask and celebrating a soccer game in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The show soon invited him back.

His music doesn’t come from a rural porch. It is a modern studio product from Nashville, intended for radio playlists and ultimately large concert halls. Up to an arena-sized march, “More Than My Hometown” works like a Bruce Springsteen song with just a little extra guitar tang. Wallen’s voice is as rocky as country and comes with a grunge rasp. Main producer Joey Moi made hits with Nickelback.

Amid the dozen of songs on “Dangerous” there is plenty of room for variety. Wallen offers fingerpicking and soft rock country with “Somebody’s Problem” and “7 Summers”, lavishly layered country rock in the Eagles style with “More Surprised Than Me” and “Your Bartender”, a southern rock stomp with ” Beer Don “. t. “Now and then he ventures into a more electronic field like” Warning “, which has a programmed, twitching, almost falling beat. With its minor key and the backup vocals” ooh “, some exchanged instruments could turn it into a track for that Weeknd do.

For almost the entire album, Wallen remains strict in character as a sweet-drinking, affectionate small town person. A number of songs in the second half of the album with titles like “Rednecks, Red Letters, Red Dirt”, “Somethin ‘Country” and “Whatcha Think of Country Now” become insistent. But every now and then he allows other possibilities. He is remaking Jason Isbell’s song “Cover Me Up”, originally a waltz with a sharp pedal steel guitar that apologizes for abusive behavior as the singer vows to stay sober and admits a deep vulnerability. Wallen turned it into a video about a veteran’s post-traumatic stress.

And shortly before the album ends, he sings “Livin ‘the Dream”, a bitter exposure of pop success: “Between alcohol and women and Adderall and adrenaline, I get no real rest,” he sings. “I signed my life to be the life of the party / Yes, for everyone else.” For a few minutes it seems to be exposed in another way.

Morgan Wallen
“Dangerous: The Double Album”
(Big Loud / Republic)