With their tellingly titled debut album, Honky Tonks and Cheap Motels, Whitey Morgan & the 78s
try to transform the Motor City into Music City (that's Nashville, TN, for you Yankees out there). Surely no simple task, most would agree, but it seems that the Flint, MI-based quintet shares a singular obsession with the outlaw country movement, and, in the case of Morgan himself, an outright fixation on ol' Waylon Jennings
. Accordingly, this 2008 debut, though recorded entirely in the Michigan chill, never wanders north of the Mason-Dixon Line, musically speaking. On the one hand, it boasts numerous laconic acoustic guitar numbers spiked with wonderfully weepy pedal steel, including the wistful lament, "Hold Her When She Cries," the soppy "Love and Honor," and the Waylon, Hank, Earl Scruggs
, and Cash-citing country establishment screed, "If It Ain't Broke" -- not to mention a beautifully stylized cover of Bruce Springsteen
's "I'm on Fire" that fits right in. On the other hand, it finds the boys perking up to tackle several whiskey-drenched honky tonkers like "Crazy (By Any Other Name)," "Honky Tonk Angel," "Another Round," and the candid and amusingly self-critical "Cheating Again." So aside from a selection of less-inspired iterations of these templates rounding out the album, the only major knock one can level at the group is that they may come off rather like an outlaw country tribute band to seasoned fans of the genre. Then again, who could begrudge Whitey Morgan and his crew's earnest desire to perpetuate the outlaw aesthetic in its purest form, least of all by opening quite a few eyes to its wonders among Small Stone's predominantly hard rock fan contingent? Like the song above says: "If It Ain't Broke"...