The erstwhile Rationals/Sonic’s Rendezvous Band vocalist sees his late-‘80s/early-‘90s recordings collected on an impressive set from the ever-astute archivists of all things Motor City, Easy Action.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Scott Morgan has been undergoing a renaissance in the past decade. Between reissues of his seminal work with blue-eyed soul rockers the Rationals from the ‘60s and power rock pioneer Sonic’s Rendezvous Band from the ‘70s and his rediscovery by an enthusiastic generation of Scandinavian rock diehards in the ‘90s, the Detroit rock ‘n’ soul man with the perfect voice for each has a higher profile than ever before. But there was a time when obscurity threatened to engulf his work. After the demise of SRB, Morgan and the rhythm section stayed together, recruiting singer Kathy Deschaine and various guitarists for recording and concert purposes. As the Scott Morgan Band, this lineup produced the 1989 album Rock Action for the French label Revenge. Renaming itself Scots Pirates, the band released a self-titled LP (AKA Action Now in Europe) on Motor City label Schoolkids in 1993 and the follow-up Revolutionary Means in 1995 before splintering.
Revolutionary Action (Easy Action) collects the tracks from all three records in their entirety, blending them together on two disks rather than presenting them in chronological order. Since production differences are minor – the Means material has a rawer sound, but not so much as to be jarring – the tracks flow nicely, as if they were all recorded for one project. Though known for having a foot in two different camps (Detroit hard rock and blue-eyed soul), on Disc 1 Morgan explores what was at the time a more mainstream rock direction. Less bombastic than Bruce Springsteen, more soulful than John Mellencamp, but not a million miles away from either, songs like “Heaven and Earth” (from the SRB repertoire), “Josie’s Well” and “Detroit” wouldn’t sound out of place on classic rock stations in the late ‘80s. “Heartland” takes its title to, um, heart with a shining cut that could’ve come from Brian Setzer’s similarly honed The Knife Feels Like Justice. That’s not to say Morgan doesn’t exploit his R&B roots from time to time – cf. “Misery,” sung by Deschaine, and a cover of Johnnie Taylor’s “Hijackin’ Love.” He even goes pop (or as close to it as he’d ever go) with “Running Away.”
Disc 2 reintroduces the harder rock element most associated with Detroit. To be honest, there’s nothing here with the skronky fury of SRB, the unhinged mania of the Stooges or the sheer power of the MC5. Morgan is more of a craftsperson than his contemporaries, putting the right dollop of rock & roll force into his carefully-hewn compositions, like putting the proper amount of compression on a distorted guitar. “Stick to Your Guns,” “Lovers Leap” and “Bringin’ It All Back Home” rock righteously, with memorable melodies and plenty of energy, while “You Got What You Wanted” and “Flawed Diamonds” dig deeper into the scene’s blues rock bag. Elsewhere the band attaches “Dear Dream Diary” and the explicitly political “Fuck the Violence” to funky soul spines, floats “The Wind Blows the Name of Tazmemert” over jazzy atmospherics before slamming it into power rock anthemry, and indulges in more rootsy heartland rock with “The Road Home,” “Marijuana Wine” and a Chuck Berry-styled cover of the Dynamics’ “I’m the Man.” From the heartland to the mean streets, Morgan and his Pirates take on the guitar rock of the day and yesterday and make it their own.
Following these records, Morgan began working in Europe with the Hellacopters’ Nicke Andersson in the Hydromatics (Detroitian hard rock) and the Solution (Detroitian soul), formed Powertrane at home for a pair or LPs (including the excellent and sadly overlooked Beyond the Sound) and restarted his solo career with a self-titled album of hard soul and R&B. Illness may have recently knocked the wind out of his sails, but it didn’t kick him out of the game for good, and the welcome reissue of the music on Revolutionary Action keeps the faith until Morgan starts the next chapter of his long, extraordinary career.
Below: a live clip of Morgan with the Sights from 2014. John Sinclair introduces.