Band on the rise.
What marks Morganway out from other soft rock bands with hints of Americana in their music is, mainly, the voice of lead singer, S.J. (Sarah Jane) Mortimer, which is an impressive instrument indeed. It gives the stronger tracks, like ‘Come Over’ and ‘Burn Every Page’ an exciting country soul-like sound that makes a real impact.
Morganway are a six piece outfit, based around the Norfolk/Cambridge area, originally formed by twin brothers Callum (bass and vocals) and Kieran (guitar and vocals) Morgan. The band are currently very active, having recently played tour support to Elles Bailey and performed at the C2C festival, and there would seem to be quite a buzz around the band, who look to be building an impressive following, especially around their live performances. Listening to this new album from them, the other stand out sound on these tracks is the impressive fiddle playing of Nicole J. Terry but they’re a very competent musical unit all round and the band is completed by keyboard player Matt Brocklehurst (playing beautifully on the power ballad ‘Sweetest Goodbye’) and some very solid rhythm work from drummer Ed Bullinger. Significantly, the whole band can sing and that makes for some great harmony work, especially on a track like the quite anthemic ‘The Man’.
Interestingly, the band have picked up the British Country Music Association’s ‘Band of the Year’ award two years running, winning in 2021 and 2022, and have also won BCMA’s ‘Best Group’ and UK Country Spotlight Awards’ ‘Best Group’. So they’re clearly turning a lot of heads (though the Country awards do seem a little odd, given that the band sound more like Buckingham/Nicks era Fleetwood Mac than any country outfit).
This really is a very competent album from a very competent sounding band but it’s not the complete triumph that the awards and media interest in the band might suggest. Although the basic writing for the album was completed before the pandemic really hit, it seems the songs were developed over and between the lockdown periods, when the band often couldn’t get together and had to develop the different aspects of each song separately. As a result, there’s a ‘bittiness’ to some of the songs that don’t seem to gel as well as others, ‘World Stopped Running’ suggests a song about the impact of the pandemic but it seems to lack focus and the bite you might expect from a song on such a subject matter – “I want to live this day with you/I want to climb a mountain too/ They tried to hide what’s true/ But we’re heading somewhere new”. Similarly, ‘We Were Going Nowhere’ seems to have little substance beyond the great vocal arrangement. These two tracks are also songs where Callum Morgan would appear to take the lead vocal and that may be why they seem a little underwhelming compared to other tracks on the album. There’s nothing wrong with Morgan’s voice, it’s perfectly tuneful and has decent tone, but it lacks the impact of Mortimer’s searing vocals. The band are right to mix it up a bit and switch the lead vocals around, but the difference in power of the two voices means Morgan is never going to make quite the same impact as Mortimer and they need to find a way to balance out that discrepancy going forward.
In general, the songs are good and well written. While Callum Morgan appears to be the main writer (usually with non-band member George Nicholson) there are contributions from most of the other members of the band and the album is well produced by the band themselves, along with Headline Studios’ Piers Mortimer, which is, presumably, where the album was recorded.
Morganway are, quite definitely, a band on the rise and this is a good, solid album showing off a very capable group of musicians. Despite all the plaudits they do, in many ways, come across as a band still finding their feet and learning how to give their music real impact. Their press release says that, following their debut eponymously titled studio recording, which came out in 2019, they felt that they were almost starting over with this new album (hence the title) and it does have more of a debut feeling about the album than that of a more assured, sophomore offering. These last few years have been tough ones for musicians and especially for those in the early phases of building their careers. Morganway just need to put that disruption behind them and build on the strong foundation they’re establishing. While not quite sounding like a great album in its own right, “Back to Zero” should provide a very solid stepping stone for the next phase of their career. This is a band to watch.