Gracenote / Ichiban International Records, 1998
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/15/1998
I've written many times about the lack of true singer/songwriters left in the industry today. Gordon Lightfoot is still out there, as is Loudon Wainwright III, and we still have the music of Harry Chapin, John Denver and Jim Croce to remind us of how it used to be.
Jim Morgan almost has the field to himself these days, and on Ordinary Time, his latest release, he makes the most of it, with a few small potholes along the road.
It takes a while for Morgan to really get things rolling - "Don't Call Me Tonight" is a rather bland effort of a man struggling with his feelings for a woman he most likely doesn't want to fall in love with (but eventually does). However, by the third track "What Am I Gonna Say", Morgan has the creative volume knob cranked and, thanks to the assistance of a girls chorus (and his own son Matthew on vocals and laughter), Morgan propels himself into your heart and ears.
The power of Morgan's songs cannot be denied. "We've Been Given Today" may seem on the surface like Morgan's establishment of a relationship with an elder member of his family, but deeper than that, it reminds us to enjoy the beauty that each day brings and that we can learn more than just our past from our elders. (With a grandfather I've never been close to in failing health, this song hit me especially hard.) Special note of praise goes to Russ Rodgers's fretless bass work on this one.
But it is the pain and ghosts of relationships that Morgan often sings about on Ordinary Time, making me wonder just who broke this guy's heart. One example is on "My Heart": "Just for the record, this was not my decision, / I'd much rather that we'd gone on like we did." "Only Everyday" deals with the personal aftermath of a breakup ("They ask the same old questions, and I give them stock replies. / Till they leave without me saying how I really feel inside."), while "The Secrets Of Your Past" has our hero confronting past experiences of his beloved's life and making the pain his own.
Surprisingly, Ordinary Time has more than a touch of religion to it - something you'd miss on just a cursory listen (and frankly, I missed it until I read the liner notes). "You" talks about the omnipresent love of whatever God you believe in, no matter what you do or where you are. There are other subtle mentions of religion in this album - but at least it doesn't hit you over the head with a "Jesus Saves" message. Even someone like myself who considers himself to be religious will be surprised at the gentle nature of the message.
"Alright By Me," the album's "closer" (not including the uncredited reprise of "What Am I Gonna Say"), is a strong message from a parent to his child, that no matter how terrible things seem in their lives or how tyrannical their parents appear to be, they are always loved by their parents.
Morgan's name might not be a familiar one to many people, and many stations might not be willing to take a chance on music with even the slightest hint of religion to it. But Ordinary Time is more than just a plain album; it captures a lot of the angst and confusion that many of us have felt at one point or another, and puts it into words we all can relate to. And that, kids, is the true gift.