You could probably make the case that singer/songwriter Craig Morgan has lived multiple lifetimes. After growing up in Kingston Springs, Tenn., Craig became an EMT at age 18 and spent the next 10 years of his life as an active member of the US Army. It was only in his mid-30s when Craig signed his first record deal and released his self-titled debut in 2000. From there it’s country music history: Craig, inducted as a Grand Ole Opry member in 2008, has charted seven Top 10 singles so far in his career, while releasing six studio albums.
So it’s only fair that on his new greatest hits package, The Journey (Livin’ Hits), Craig traces his own history while also giving fans a look at what’s to come. The album, which was released last week, is a 12-song project featuring eight of his biggest hits in addition to four new songs that include the current single “Wake Up Lovin’ You.”
Co-producing the project with Phil O’Donnell, Craig re-recorded and mastered his past hits for this collection. Craig sounds as good as ever on the note-for-note renditions, delivering inspired performances of songs like his multi-week No. 1 smash “That’s What I Love About Sunday” and the lake-party sing-along “Redneck Yacht Club.” Blue-collar country has long been Craig’s strong suit and the pounding “International Harvester,” with its blend of traditional country vocal runs and strong Southern rock sound, captures Craig’s passion for those who are working hard way before dawn. Same with the down home Honky Tonk of “Little Bit Of Life,” where Craig fully grabs each quick line as the song’s deep and excellent production displays the results of new studio tracks to support Craig’s hits.
In addition to the loose new single, “Wake Up Lovin’ You,” Craig includes three other new songs on the project. Each comes off as heartfelt and genuine, but “If Not Me” is by far the most personal. Surrounded by piano and night-sky atmospherics, Craig sings, If not me, then who?, when describing the father/son conversation regarding enlistment into the military. Craig’s performance is deeply invested as sharp melodic hooks and expert storytelling grip the listener. It feels like Craig’s own story and he sings it as such.
Incorporating elements of hip-hop into country music is a trend that has spiked recently and Craig does allow for a bit of this genre swapping on “Party Girl.” However, Craig’s take on the new styling is actually one of the best examples around. A downright infectious banjo riff is paired with R&B electric guitar, drum programming and handclaps to sound like a hillbilly slow jam. The fact that Craig takes so naturally to it is honestly a little surprising, but his easy and fun delivery makes for an impressive and entertaining outing.
Rounding out the project with hits like the rhythmic “This Ole Boy,” rural anthem “More Trucks Than Cars” and emotional ballads “Tough” and “Almost Home” (the latter being Craig’s first Top 10 single), The Journey (Livin’ Hits) does a great job pairing the old with the new. Through his rich performances and personal songs, Craig establishes where he’s come from and what might be next on an excellent set that follows his own life’s journey.
Key Tracks – “If Not Me,” “Little Bit Of Life,” “That’s What I Love About Sunday,” “Almost Home”