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Album Review: Heather Morgan’s Borrowed Heart steals yours

Heather Morgan’s Borrowed Heart steals yours

Patrick O’Heffernan

“I felt like I’ve found my voice…I feel a confidence I’ve never experienced before, and I want to follow that, wherever it takes me,” is how Heather Morgan describes the impulse that led to her just released album, Borrowed Heart.

That confidence is woven through all 12 songs on the album and lingers, like an extended note, long after the last track. Morgan’s voice is clear, strong, controlled, and yet moves beyond all of that into an art form that borrows your heart and doesn’t quite return it; in fact she steals it. It’s Nashville Country, but it is so much more – rock, pop, enigmatic, something hard to name but your gut understands what it is.

Morgan is known for songwriting. She has been recorded by the likes of Keith Urban, Brett Eldredge, Sara Evans, and the Eli Young Band  and is now a staff writer at Sony ATV Music with two #1 singles and a 2015 BMI Song of the Year award. But she is no stranger to singing. She first sang publicly at the age of 8, won singing contests in elementary school, formed a band in college that toured with the Randy Rogers Band, and she even performed solo at the Bluebird Café in Nashville while still a student.

After moving from her native Texas to Nashville and producing hit after hit, it is no wonder that she had the confidence and desire to hear her own voice deliver her songs. After the ACM awards last year she booked an Airbnb in Joshua Tree, borrowed a guitar from Jason Mraz, and worked with producer Paul Moak to turn out five of what I think are the best songs she has written and without a doubt some of the best songs in country music – and outside of country music–  today.

She added other songs she had written earlier to album plus a few more penned with her partners Lori McKenna and Ross Copperman for a big album of an even dozen cuts – all superb, each one a hit in its own right.

She kicks off the album with “We Were a Fire”, beguiling you with a melodic introduction and then slamming you in the gut and never letting go as she moves in and out of this nostalgic story of fire and passion. She gives you a break from the intensity of “Fire” with “Arms of a Lion:, co-written with McKenna who joins her on the cut. Morgan’s voice weaves a low-intensity spell – just enough to let you know you are under her enchantment, but not so much that you see the dangers when you “lay down in the arms of a lion”.

You are now prepped for the  power core of the album, “Your Hurricane”, released earlier as a single. The song was written to mitigate pain of a badly broken, all-consuming romance that left her helpless. “I had been in a relationship where I just couldn’t take it anymore,” she says describing sitting in a cinderblock cabin in the desert in the grip of a cathartic writing storm. Bringing together heartbreak, confidence, swelling strings, Nashville guitar, powerful percussion and
that voice, she lets you borrow her heart and then makes you cry.

But the tears quickly dry as she shifts to the completely different world of the rising sun over the vast desert sky, with “Morning Light”. Martial drums, big stringed guitar chords mixed with howling electric riffs, and a vocal delivery that sounds like acid-tripped Celtic tale, especially in the breakdown. Wow…my second favorite on the album after “Your Hurricane”.

With “Highway Robbery” and  “Fall Like Rain” she keeps up the magical intensity, hard in “Robbery”, but softer, more surgical in “Rain” until the percussion roars in with the electric riffs.   “A Hundred Miles” follows, bringing us back to earth with a story that sounds like the best of Nashville, yet with a distinctive depth derived from her country-but-more voice and Moak’s arrangement that manages to be simultaneously both thrilling and haunting. Transitioning to “Paper” she once again beguiles you, this time with a simple acoustic guitar-led intro, and then makes you almost flinch with the lyrics, “You cut me like paper / You tear me to shreds /Your words are as sharp as a razor / You cut me like paper”. So gentle, so tender, such recognizable pain. But, she understands you need a break from the bleeding and the album moves on to hard rock in “Speckled Bird” which is everything country rock should be. Clap your hands and join the line dance.

If this was alive show, “Speckled Bird” would have been a perfect closing song, but it’s an album and Morgan has a couple of things she still wants to get off her chest, starting with “I Always Did”. You can hear her heartbeat in the rhythms, the blood flow is in the subtle, distant violins as she comes to the realization that love was always there.  Her voice is from deep within, clear, vibrating with emotion, softly piercing, glowing against the tapestry Moak has created, cradling her words when they look inside and then swelling when the reach their peak of discovery. Truly magic.

After the magic of “I Always Did” fades with its last notes, she has one more song for us, the title song, “Borrowed Heart”. Bringing together every aspect of Morgan’s singing and songwriting talent and Moak’s production magic, she creates a classic that crosses genre lines to hypnotize listeners, country fan or not. The lyrics make the personal universal, the pain powerful. The woman singing them not a voice in the speakers, but a person in front of you. She can borrow my heart any time – or steal it.

Patrick O’Heffernan.  Host, Music FridayLive!, Co-Host MúsicaFusionLA

Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist and radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles, California, with a global following. His two weekly radio programs, MusicFridayLive! and MusicaFusionLA are heard nationwide and in the UK. He focuses on two music specialties: emerging bands in all genres, and the growing LA-based ALM genre (American Latino Music) that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America like cumbia, banda, jarocho and mariachi. He also likes to watch his friend drag race.

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