James Patrick Morgan - Art + Work = Love
The EP release from James Patrick Morgan, Art + Work = Love, is a stunning opener to Morgan’s career as something like a musical polymath. You can’t pigeonhole him into one particular style. Morgan has a strong enough voice to inhabit a rock musical texture, but he also has the chops to pull of soul or R&B influenced tracks, pop songs, and hard-charging singer/songwriter material. Despite the plethora of influences, nothing comes across too cluttered and there’s a clarity of intent picking up with the first track and carrying the entire release. Morgan’s vocals are vibrant and suggest he has a strong stage presence backed up by the skills needed to make live performances pay off. Art + Work = Love comes out of the starting gate with a lot of heart and a little attitude and, while he alters his approach from song to song, it never loses any of its spirit and energy along the way.
It sets the bar high from the start. “Expected” has overall quality that any performer, at any level, would be proud to feature on a release. It’s jaunty groove makes it a perfect opener and Morgan’s clearly hot to sing it. He artfully tumbles through the lyrics, never stumbling over his phrasing, and brings home the lyric’s situation with eyebrow arching clarity. It’s a winning track and all around charismatic. There’s a rousing quality to “Alone” that Morgan and his collaborators play just right. The keyboards help propel the song along at a brisk enough pace without ever rushing its development. It’s one of Art + Work = Love’s more mainstream moments, but it’s never so poppy that serious music fans will reject it; quite the opposite. If anything, they will be impressed at how substantive it really is. Melody distinguishes a lot of what Morgan does and few songs show that better than “Sign Language”. The brief piano introduction is soon fleshed out further by compelling drums and strong acoustic guitar playing. It’s fascinating being able to hear glimpses in each song of its birth; it’s easy to imagine that many of these cuts began with a single guy working out the initial structure on acoustic between building onto it in the studio.
“Right Mistakes” may be the album’s best song. It doesn’t have the same energy as the opener, but it’s an overall more thoughtful and considered bit of songwriting that Morgan clearly goes all out to elevate with his shattering vocal. The guitars working their way through this song hold everything together musically and do so quite nicely. His cover version of “Fly Like an Eagle” seems like a gift to his fans. He does a fantastic job refurbishing this Steve Miller classic for a modern audience without ever losing its connection to the original’s spirit. Despite this not being an original, it still reveals many of the same moves making the earlier songs so special. James Patrick Morgan is a risk taker – he isn’t afraid to reach out for his audience and lay himself bare to connect with the crowd. This is an EP that connects solidly with its intended listeners and should appeal to a broad based cross section of music fans.
9 out of 10 stars