Americana Vinyl Treasures: Morning “Morning”

Liberty, 1970

Morning cover art

Writers, including this one, have waxed lyrical on the gems to be found in the cut-out bins, secondhand stores and clearance sales.  Another great source for hearing a wider range of music was the sampler; budget price albums released by major labels to show their wares to the world.  They were also a treasure trove for seekers after new music.  In 1971, United Artists in the UK released a 2-album set ‘All Good Clean Fun’ featuring acts from the UK, US and Germany and with a significant americana content including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Cochise, Help Yourself, Brinsley Schwarz and Morning.  The two tracks from Morning came from their self-titled debut album released the previous year and caught the attention of this listener.

Morning was a band formed by a group of friends from the LA/ Southern California music scene who had been active ten years or so in a variety of bands and involved in session work.  The core of Morning was Jay Lewis (guitars, banjo, vocals), Barry Brown (guitar, drums, vocals) and Jim Hobson (piano, organ, vocals).  Also credited are fellow scene musicians Terry Johnson (guitar) and Jim Kehn (drums, guitar, vocals) and local session bassist Bruce Wallace.  Credited as guest on pedal steel is Al Perkins while there are uncredited appearances from Frank Fayad and George Suranovich.  Lewis’ previous job (as Jay Donnellan) had been as lead guitarist with Love on their ‘Four Sail’ and ‘Out Here’ releases.  Hobson played keyboards on two tracks on the latter.  Fayad and Suranovich were Love’s rhythm section on their three post ‘Forever Changes’ LPs. Morning signed to Vault Records and recorded the album at The Recording Studios, LA with Lewis, Hobson and Brown producing.

‘Angelena’ opens the record with interlocking piano and organ.  The lyric is full of regret at the loss of a love as a result of neglect and Brown’s vocal evokes this sense.  The melody, instrumentation and choral vocal of ‘Early Morning’ are reminiscent of The Association. Lewis turns in a nice guitar solo mid-song before a piano led outro with a distinct r&b/doowop feel.

‘Tell Me A Story‘ sounds like a song from a later period LA singer-songwriter era. The layered playing and up-tempo beat combine with a strong lead vocal and bouncy harmonies.  The following track ‘Easy Keeper’ is a softer focused song with a higher pitched vocal and muted guitar picking out what seems like an impossibly log line between verses.  As the song develops it slips from CSN simplicity to Brian Wilson style complexity.

Side 1 closer ‘Roll ‘Em Down’ is a vintage country rocker framed by country piano and Perkins’ steel.  A twangy lead guitar takes us into the second part of the tune in which the drums take greater prominence.  The harmony vocal is again a highlight. Dramatic piano leads into the sweet choral vocal that is ‘Sleepy Eyes’.  Lewis conjures up a sweet guitar sound in the breaks. ‘New Day’ is a beautiful piano instrumental from Hobson. It leads into ‘As It Was’, a very polished track which sees the band flexing its music muscles with another soulful vocal.  ‘Time’ , with its Hobson lead vocal, is a wistful song which develops from a piano/organ interplay to bringing in Perkins’ pedal steel as it builds before finally fading out.  On the original vinyl these are three separate tracks but the CD version merges them into a three-part performance in the manner of the Buffalo Springfield.

‘It’ll Take Time’ is a jaunty country rocker propelled by piano and acoustic guitar before being joined by electric guitar and pedal steel and a Brown led vocal with more sweet harmony.

Penultimate track ‘And I’m Gone’ features Lewis’ picked acoustic before the bass starts to fill leading into a harmony vocal when suddenly the listener is jolted by a sudden switch into a jazzy instrumental in which Hobson’s piano is prominent.  Later in the five-minute song Kehn delivers a jazzy drum solo before dropping back into the jam and in turn back into the folky outro.Perkins’ steel picks out the intro to Kehn’s ‘Dirt Roads’ with its harmony vocal evoking the warmth of sunny day before revealing it as a memory.

And with that we’re done.  ‘Morning’ is a record that encompasses the past, present and near future of Los Angeles sophisticated pop and country rock. Its breadth belies the relatively short (35 minute) length and is arguably better played twice in a row to take it all in.

Acknowledgement: Writing this piece was made a lot easier by Gray Newell’s extensive article on Morning and Jason Smith’s track by track of both ‘Morning’ and ‘Struck By Silver’.  Anyone wanting to know more about this fine band should be sure to consult a copy of Fantastic Expedition Issue No 9 which is dedicated to Morning. You can find it here.

The UK stereo version on the Liberty label can be bought for around £35-£60 in decent condition. The US Vault release which came in a gatefold sleeve goes for around £75. A CD release on Wounded Bird which came out in 2009 is priced in the £40-65 bracket. In 2022, the album was reissued in CD vinyl replica form by South Korea’s Big Pink label which had previously reissued Morning’s second and final album, ‘Struck Like Silver’, in 2015.  The 2022 release is available for just under £25.

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andy riggs

An interesting dip into 1970 Americana. At the time there was some stiff competition from the likes of CSN & Poco at the end of the day perhaps they lacked the killer songs and drifted into pleasant tunes. At the time it would have been difficult to surpass the likes of CSN(Y) but on tracks like As it Was they were showing signs of originality – soon to disappear as this genre was soon engulfed with numerous CSN spin offs. I have no idea what happened after this 1970 debut?