Song Review: William Michael Morgan, “Vinyl”

William Michael Morgan is a talented artist and Vinyl was a great album, but I can’t help but wonder: Has his window of opportunity for country music stardom already closed?

Morgan became a hero to staunch country traditionalists when his debut single “I Met A Girl” reached #2 on Billboard’s airplay chart last year, and with the release of his follow-up single “Missing” (which was my favorite single of 2016), he seemed poised to become an A-list superstar and bring a classic country revolution to the mainstream. Instead, “Missing” limped to a disappointing #29 airplay peak, and Morgan was replaced by Midland as the face of the traditional country movement. Now, Morgan hopes to rebound with “Vinyl,” the title track and third single from his debut album, and while it’s still a good song and an enjoyable listen, it’s a safer and less interesting song than “Missing,” and in an era where other artists are beginning to see success with a throwback sound (Midland, Jon Pardi, Carly Pearce, Luke Combs, etc.), Morgan doesn’t stand out quite like he used to.

The production here is a restrained neotraditional mix, with an acoustic guitar doing the lion’s share of melody work and a real drum set providing the foundation. There’s also a steel guitar that gets just enough space to remind you that it’s here (mostly on the choruses), and an electric guitar that provides a nice solo and little else. It doesn’t provide the energy that “Missing” did, but it establishes a smooth, relaxed atmosphere that suits the subject matter well. (In fact, the song might be a little too smooth, as it doesn’t grab the listener’s attention the way “Missing” did, and just doesn’t feel as impactful or memorable as it should.) In short, it’s a nice, 90s-reminiscent mix that’s easy on the ears.

From a technical perspective, this might be the least-demanding song I’ve heard in a while: Both the singer’s range and volume are tightly constrained, and the flow is as relaxed as the production. As a love song, however, the song demands charisma and believability from those who dare sing it, and Morgan effortlessly clears these hurdles with his easy, earnest delivery. While I wouldn’t call his performance “sexy,” Morgan does a nice job conveying the narrator’s love for their partner to the listener, and his words come across as genuine rather than hollow. I’ve always been a fan of Morgan’s voice, and “Vinyl” does nothing to change this opinion.

The writing is as light and fluffy as you would expect from a love song, and despite its many record references, it doesn’t come across as particularly clever or witty. The “hang your cover on the wall” line was kind of cute, but most of the other hooks came across as a bit bland and uninteresting, and the angle wore thin surprisingly quickly. Also, while the word “girl” pops up a lot, it’s not the frequency of the word that bothers me as much as its location: Twice during the verses, the word is used to end groups of lines in a lazy attempt to make things rhyme properly. Overall, though, the lyrics are tolerable and inoffensive, and don’t get in the way of Morgan or the production.

A year ago, I would have held “Vinyl” up as a prime example of how great country music could sound. While I would still call it a good song today, its flaws are a bit more apparent now that its production no longer stands out among its peers. The song still has a chance to do well and reestablish Morgan as an up-and-coming star, but his chances of becoming the Randy Travis of his era are virtually nil, and that’s a shame.

Rating: 7/10. It’s worth checking out, but “Missing” was so much better.