Review: Morganway – ‘Back To Zero’

As much as we hate to admit it, the use of “for fans of” or in its abbreviated form; “FFO”, is a crucial marketing tool. Not only does it help when playlists are being compiled, and when Big Brother Zuckerberg is listening in on your chat and offers up a “you might like this” as a way of defending his snooping on you as marketing, but it also helps when trying to describe a particular band to someone who is blissfully unaware that they exist. After all, we are constantly told that the average social media/YouTube user will give something thirty seconds at the most before moving on to the next track. Something needs to keep them on the line while the track grows, and more often or not “FFO” will do the trick. While admittedly there are some moments where the suggested “FFO” is way off the mark – so much so that it is laughable – in the case of rising stars of UK Americana Morganway any “FFO” that mentions Fleetwood Mac is right on the money.

Norfolk/Cambridge-based Morganway were formed by twins Callum (lead vocals, bass) and Kieran Morgan (guitar, vocals), and with their authentic, organic brand of melodic (but with a bit of a bite) Americana, the six-piece have rather quickly built up an enviable collection of plaudits from critics and punters alike. Their not-so-secret weapon is lead vocalist SJ Mortimer. One of those raw talents that come around once in a while and force critics to break out the comparisons to go-to legends such as Janis Joplin, Stevie Nicks, Grace Slick, etc. But in Mortimer’s case, any comparison to a legendary female vocalist is entirely justified and not just a hack being lazy and reaching for a cliche or two. If you caught the recent tour from the majestical Elles Bailey, then you might have caught Morganway in one form or another as most nights at least two band members played acoustically; with SJ sometimes performing with her arm in a sling as she had recently broken her elbow. Even in acoustic mode, there was enough spark there to ensure that further investigation was needed, and almost as if it was planned – Morganway have taken advantage of the praise from the supporting tour, as well as the headline shows that followed on, and have dropped sophomore effort – ‘Back To Zero’.

At 9 tracks in length, ‘Back To Zero’ is perfect. So many albums today stretch out to 13 or 14 tracks, and inevitably the quality suffers. No such worry with ‘Back To Zero’. Opening with the urgency of  ‘Wait For Me’, Morganway are not hanging around. One of those glorious tracks that begin in one style and end in a totally different style, with many detours along the way. At the core of the track are SJ’s utterly spellbinding vocals, and some lush string work from Nicole J Terry – throw in some nailed-on layered vocal harmonies, some pulsating drum work courtesy of Ed Bullinger, and the end result is so infectious that the only thing to do when it fades out is to press repeat, and then repeat again…and again. The slower, brooding ‘Come Over’ quickly follows on and the pacing is crucial as it alternates between slower moments and explosions of sound that are genuinely hair-raising. The vocals from SJ are hypnotic, as are the lead guitar breaks from Kieran Morgan. As far as one-two’s go, these two tracks side-by-side are hard to beat.

‘World Stopped Running’ could be/should be a Summer smash at festivals such as the Isle of Wight Festival, and with Callum handling the majority of lead vocals (with female backing vocals) then the “FFO” Fleetwood Mac really does come into play. Ditto ‘We Were Going Nowhere’ which has some gorgeous fuzzy bass licks and what sounds like a mandolin in the background, ‘The Man’ which simply soars with oodles of gorgeous vocal hooks, and the uplifting title track that has vocal hooks big enough to reel in Moby Dick’s bigger brother. Mixing it up, on ‘Burn Every Page’ the band opts for a slow-burning, beauty that gradually builds into a Ry Cooder-like dustbowl classic which features some killer fiddle work from Nicole and a guitar solo from Kieran that positively sizzles. Stylistically, ‘Sweetest Goodbye’ is the polar opposite of ‘Burn Every Page’, but the piano and violin-led 5 minutes leave the same impression as the fury that precedes it, and delivers one of the standout moments on an album of many.

Difficult second album? Yeah, right. Morganway laugh in the face of that tired notion.

Pick up ‘Back To Zero’ now, more information here.

Review – Dave

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