On the title track of his sophomore release, There Is No Map, Sam Morrow sings “Well, I didn’t learn too much, back when I knew it all.”, a sentiment that perfectly encapsulates the soulful journey of this promising young American troubadour. “In the past, I never really gave myself the opportunity to grow like I have since getting sober. I never really cared to learn about myself, my flaws, my strengths. I’ve been sober for long enough to where I see things coming back to me, but the fog of the chaos is only getting thicker, and that scares me.”
It’s been a busy year for newcomer Sam Morrow. Over the course of 15 months, he will have released his first two full length albums, a live in-the-studio EP with accompanying videos, be named an NPR “World Cafe Next” artist and play more than 100 shows, including an East Coast tour with blues legend John Mayall, kicking off The Bandit Town Festival and a successful SXSW.
In 2014, Forty Below Records released Morrow’s first record Ephemeral, about which influential Americana magazine No Depression declared, “Sam Morrow has crafted a sterling debut LP that offers ready comparisons to the inspiring melancholia of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, Steve Earle’s Train a Coming and Jason Isbell’s more recent Southeastern.”
While Ephemeral introduced the world to Morrow’s story and sound with a collection of haunting vignettes, his sophomore effort, There Is No Map, goes a couple steps further, exploring the joy ride before the hangover. Infused with an explorer’s soul and world-weary eyes, the structure and heart of this album mimic Morrow’s own growth as a person and artist. It’s an undeniable celebration of life, in all its unvarnished glory, as is evident right out of the gates where album opener, ‘Barely Holding On’, finds our thrill seeking maverick, thundering down the asphalt on a cocaine-fueled adventure.
“(Album producer) Eric Corne and I had a vision, since the end of our last record,” Says Morrow, “for this one to be daring. The last album dwelled on the darkness of growing up and running from reality, so I wanted this record to highlight the real adventures I had, and still have. We also wanted this record to be more of an ensemble, with the instrumentation helping to tell more of the story. We got some of our favorite musicians together in the studio for four days total; Matt Tecu on drums, Eamon Ryland on guitar, Ted Russell Kamp playing bass and Sasha Smith on keys. We recorded the first five songs in two days at Kingsize Soundlabs, in Eagle Rock. It provided a space where we could just go in and create, not simply record. The beauty of the ensemble that we put together is the ability for Eric and I to work together with them on a very raw idea. One of the songs we did at Kingsize was ‘Wasted Time.’ The interaction between Eamon’s pedal steel playing, Sasha’s organ part, and Matt’s minimalist percussion approach wouldn’t have happened tracking separately.” Corne continues, “We topped it off with Eamon’s iconic baritone guitar solo and gorgeous background vocals by Samantha Valdez. She added that classic country element, like an Emmylou (Harris) or Patsy (Cline) would have done. “It’s easily my favorite track on the record,” exclaims Morrow.
“I felt as though I was changing as a person and so my music should follow. My tastes had matured and I found myself digging deeper in the depths of traditional Americana; Little Feat, Hank Williams, Paul McCartney’s RAM, Lucinda Williams, Merle Haggard. I found myself being influenced by things I wasn’t before. Early in my life, I turned a shoulder to country music but once I started seeking out the sounds beyond what we’re spoon fed, I found my home; the land of storytellers and outlaws picking against the grain. But I still wanted to stamp it with my own brand. I wanted to dip into psychedelia and make a record referencing all different kinds of music that I love.” On, ‘Am I Wrong,’ you hear some Ray Charles crossed with The Doors; ‘Green’ blends country and gospel; and ‘The Deaf Conductor’ serves up acerbic Dylanesque wordplay over a rollicking Crazy Horse thump and guitars reminiscent of Lowell George (Little Feat).
Whereas Ephemeral was written amidst a fog of lingering depression and addiction, Morrow’s turn with There Is No Map, is a wide-eyed journey through the past, careening into the future; Drenched in a childlike optimism and chemical-induced glee, the realities of this record are consequences of Morrow’s own juxtaposed experiences. Even its artwork taunts the imagination with a provocative impossibility of conflicting worlds; There is No Map wrestles with paradox and invites the listener to take a seat, sweat along and tackle their own internal struggle.
AJ Hobbs doesn’t just make country music—he makes what he likes to call Outlaw Soul. His music brings the spirit and storytelling of the great country outlaws and melds it with a sweet soulful sound inspired by Texas music, R&B and gospel. As the late great Hondo Crouch once said, “You can’t forget memories,” and so AJ Hobbs’ music is all about turning his own memories into song, and moving the folks who can’t forget theirs either. AJ’s story begins in Riverside County, California, in a dusty, one-stoplight desert town populated mostly by truck drivers and tumbleweeds. AJ got his nickname from his grandpa who used to call from Texas long distance, yelling hey AJ! into the phone as if the physical
distance between them effected the volume. He held his first guitar before the age of four, thanks to his daddy who was a classical guitar player first, but a drinkin’ man a close second. While AJ learned from an early age what happens when daddies drink too much and can’t keep their hands off the women they love, or the children they made, there was one good thing he did pick up from that man: how to hear the soul of a good country song. Hee Haw was on every Sunday and long drives to the city were often to the classic sounds of Buck, Willie, and Waylon, along with then contemporary giants like Alabama, The Oak Ridge Boys and Dolly Parton. The man who would eventually turn his back on AJ in the long run had planted a seed that grew into a love for stories told best by the strings of a guitar.
In the early 80s, AJ, mom and little brother packed everything they had into a Caprice Classic and headed to the beach—a place where AJ had no chance of fitting in. Desert boy didn’t surf, so he had to go back to where he felt at home: with his music. But he was now living in Orange County — and country just didn’t play there. So he had to find his own way back through classic and southern rock and along the way as a teen he started listening to old soul, gospel and R&B like Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Isaac Hayes, Albertina Walker and James Cleveland. Eventually, he arrived in Santa Cruz and at a party a friend asked him if he liked Johnny Cash and that was all it took. The sounds of his early childhood started to flow back in and he spent the next ten years fanatically buying back all the old country records he had left behind in that desert town.
Tragically following in the footsteps of his dad, AJ wound up having his own battle with drinking and addiction. The booze and drugs fueled years of making records and playing stages across the country, but each show meant another debauch and another sideways look from his bandmates. He knew that he would either have to go to prison or die, or both, if he didn’t get sober. AJ made that foxhole prayer one last time and something finally clicked.
AJ’s life turned around and his connection to the country music that he loved grew by leaps and bounds. He played his very first country show (under the pseudonym Cal King) opening for Shooter Jennings. Soon after he met a fine Houston woman who not only helped to steer him straight, but also gave him the idea to bring the soul music that he loved so much into his country sound. And although AJ is a California boy, there’s a whole lot of Texas in his heart. It’s in that woman that he loves and calls his wife, it’s in the way that the Hobbs men always find their way to Texas in the final years of their life, and it’s in his heroes like Willie, Waylon, Jerry Jeff and George Jones.
His debut full-length, called Too Much Is Never Enough features songs that are all his story. Take “The Loser,” an outlaw stomp about a man who walks off the comforts of a cushy job to play music. There’s “Tomorrow I’ll Be Hurtin’,” an anthemic and soulful cowboy song about life on the road with that bittersweet lyric: Sometimes it feels like heaven, most days I’m going to hell / All you want is water but there’s nothing in the well. Or the sassy and funky Jerry Reed-inspired “Shit Just Got Real” with a blazing chorus that we can all relate to. And “Eastside” a gospel voice and organ laden ballad that channels the deep moods of The Band and Joe Cocker. Kicking off this release is the first single “Daddy Loved The Lord” a country gospel groover about Jesus, the Devil and dad. The album features songs by other great songwriters including his half-time funky horn-laden version of Merle Haggard’s “The Bottle Let Me Down,” a Eagles-inspired version of co-producer Ted Russell Kamp’s “A Whole Lot Of You And Me” and a duet co-written and performed with emerging artist Dominique Pruitt called “Take It Slow.”
The album is full of performances by some of the top brass in the country music and soul worlds, including Brian Whelan (Dwight Yoakam), John Schreffler, Jr. (Billy Joe Shaver), Storm Rhode IV (Moot Davis, James Intveld), Jeremy Long (Sam Outlaw) and Makeda Francisco (Rose Royce). The album was mastered by Grammy Award winner Pete Lyman who has worked with Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell.
Too Much Is Never Enough out February 17, 2017.