Let’s start with the voice, an instrument through which she can communicate anything. A gift bestowed upon her that she has expertly trained, meticulously nurtured, and passionately galvanized into action by an urgency to make real music. Next, the stories, and she has them in spades. They are full of truth and beauty, heartache and thoughtfulness. They reveal colors we weren’t expecting to see. They make us close our eyes and relate. And finally, the soul – the emotional and intellectual energy through which these parts are fueled. That special something that prompted The Wall Street Journal to herald her as “the most promising young vocalist to come along so far this century.” That young vocalist is Morgan James. And Morgan James is a soul singer.
Armed with her dedication to create authentic soul music, James and her husband Doug Wamble, her producer, co-writer and arranger, spent months writing twelve new songs in New York City. “Doug and I have always wanted to make a classic record like this,” she says. “Doug is originally from Memphis and we are both so inspired by the roots of classic soul music. Being entrenched in a place like that really informs everything you make there.” So, instead of recording in New York, she aimed straight for the source and booked a week at a new music studio in Memphis, at the recommendation of drummer George Sluppick.
She immediately connected with the space: Memphis Magnetic, a renovated old bank transformed into a classic recording studio, decked out with a collection of vintage Nashville gear by owner Scott McEwen. The space exemplified exactly what James wanted her album to be: something new through the prism of something old. She and Wamble assembled a group of local musicians, including Sluppick, organist Al Gamble, bassist Landon Moore, and pianist Alvie Givhan. They tapped legendary Memphis musicians Reverend Charles Hodges and Leroy Hodges, who were the backbone of the Hi Records rhythm section, which played with Al Green and Ann Peebles, to contribute to two tracks. And finally, the team was rounded out with a classic Memphis horn section, plus the amazing Memphis String Quartet.
“This album feels so unburdened by anybody or anything. All of the songs were written for this project. They were recorded in the same way, in the same room. It’s a moment in time captured. I felt like I was a part of the lineage of soul music. My guiding force throughout the record was ‘What would Aretha say? What would Otis say?’ It’s not a retro album or a throwback by any means. This album is me: classic elements, timeless melodies, and lyrics from my soul and experience. We need that right now. We need real music now more than ever.”