Interview and Soulful Performance by Morgan James at City Winery Atlanta

Singer songwriter Morgan James returned to Atlanta for a stop during her Reckless Abandon Tour. This was Morgan James‘ first concert in Atlanta since releasing Reckless Abandon.  Her visit to the City Winery Atlanta was just after completing 30 shows in 32 days as part of the tour.  This grueling schedule was not indicated in her performance.  One of the many things that stands out about Morgan James is the power and range of her voice.  It is awe inspiring to see how seemingly effortlessly her voices soars and then sets sail on song after song after song throughout the night.  With such a powerful voice she manages to use it with precision.  Imagine a diamond jeweler shaping flawless diamonds with a sledgehammer and the image will come close to tonight’s performance by Morgan James.

When asked about the perfect wine pairing for tonight’s show Morgan James replied “A bold, spicy red!”  After tonight’s show I definitely understood why.  From the start of the show with “Up In Smoke” to the kick off her encore with a cover of Phil Collins’ “Take Me Home” Morgan James gave us her all.  The Julliard trained Broadway singer has a massive stage presence anchored by her bright smile.  Much like she does on social media, Morgan James, believes in engaging with the crowd.  This engagement pays off well in her live performance with a mix of self reflection and details about each song she drew the crowd in before many songs.

“Hi my name is Morgan and I like sad stuff.” and indeed she does.  Even without a prelude, her voice, lyrics and passionate delivery of her often heart breaking lyrics, one can’t help but to get the feels.  Of her originals performed tonight the song that touched me the most was “You Thought Not.”  I have been on both sides of the story laid out in this song and her plaintive delivery seemed to come straight from her soul and mirrored my torment.

Morgan James “You Thought Not”

“We used to be a good thing
I used to think you loved me
You were the sky above me
Or so I thought
We used to be a good time
You took me for a long ride
I thought about forever
I thought we had a shot
But you thought not” – Morgan James

If you have listened to her albums Hunter and Reckless Abandon and enjoyed them like I have, hearing her perform live leaves you wondering many things: how could Epic Records let her go; why every venue she graces isn’t packed to capacity; when will I get to hear her perform again; and why so relatively few people know her music.  Do all your friends a favor and give them a listen to Morgan James.  Do yourself a favor also and get tickets to her show if she comes with a few hundred miles of you.

Interview with Morgan James

This week the concert bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester is on everyone’s mind.  What was your reaction when you heard the news?
it’s horrifying to imagine.  I was just at the Roger Waters concert.  I don’t often get to go to concerts and when I do it is such a thrilling peaceful experience.  Everyone enjoying the music and joining in an activity together to build a sense of community.  For someone to take advance of everyone coming together and trying to destroy that sense of community is such a saddening thing.  The fact that this person, people or group preyed on young people is even more disturbing.

What impact do you feel you music has on this chaotic world of ours?
I don’t make political music but the music I make is classic and authentic.  I think that is hopefully always going to come back and stay in style because it is made with real ingredients and is about real human beings.  This is a great reminder in a world where everything is mass produced and plastic.  It is important to remember that music is a human art.  I want to speak from the hear and remind people how great real live music is.

Reckless Abandon is your first independent album.  Could you talk about how this was different from your experiences with Epic Records.
There was a lot of freedom for me with this album.  I didn’t have to ask permission and I really could focus on picking the best songs.  There weren’t any political decisions that I had to make.  I found that to be so freeing.  I happen to love and trust the people that I have around me so they were excited to go on this independent journey with me.  Of course independent or with a label you need a team of people with you to make it possible.  We had so much fun making this record.

There WERE so many things, financial and otherwise, that Epic normally took care of but we learned and learned a lot.  My time at Epic taught me how to make a record.  My time as an independent is teaching me how to be an artist.

You mentioned picking the right songs. How do you get to the right song?
Every single song that I wrote came to life in a different way because each of my co-writers had a different process.  I usually come up with lyrics before melodies.  I sometimes start with “Oh I want a song like this,” sometimes I have a title , sometimes others I have full set of lyrics done and sometimes someone else has a melody and I write the lyrics to it.  I wanted to write as many songs as possible to choose from for this album.  I went on so many co-writing sessions or blind dates as I like to call them.  I wrote over 30 songs before I started parring it down.  The ones that I like the most rose to the top.

You mentioned your parring down process.  Are there any songs that didn’t make the album that you now wish you included?
There are a couple that didn’t make it that didn’t find a home.  In taking to Doug Womble, my music director who co-wrote many of the songs, we often say “What are we going to do with this song or that song?”  I think that there are a few that could find a home on a different kind of project.   I think that it is interesting to return to a song after you give it a break and to see if you still love it.  A great song will hold up.

As we recommend Reckless Abandon to our readers which song would you suggest they listen to first?
The song that I am proudest of on the record would be “Ransom”  and then my second favorite would be “Unworthy.”  It’s hard to choose between your children but I really love those two.  Of course this changes by the day.  They take on a different life on the road with the live version different than the recorded versions.  One of my favorite songs to play life is “Making Up For Lost Love.”

You social media feed is a very active one especially on Twitter.  What advice would you give to emerging artists about using social media to grow their fan base?
It is SO important.  I talk to some people sometimes that say “I don’t have time for that” or “I’m not into it.”  It’s just not an option any more whether you are with a label or independent.   No that I’m not with Sony anymore they may own my masters but they don’t own my fans.   So cultivating a relationship with your fans and letting them be a part of your journey is so important.  And it’s also fun!

It is incredible to see the people who say “I’m going to see you when you come to my city.”  It is so rewarding to come to a new town roll your tour bus into a new town and a couple hundred are there to meet you.  That’s a result of social media.

Some people object to me being actively political on Twitter.  I am sure that I lose some fans because of it. I would encourage people to be authentic and engage with their fans on social media.

I appreciate your political views and support you in using your platform for sharing your beliefs.

What was the first album that you added to your personal music library?
I’m dating myself with this but two of the first albums were Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable… with Love and Heart self titled album came out.  I must have been in third grade? [laughter]

What was your most recent addition to your personal music library?
Most recently I got the new PJ Morton, Gumbo, and Ingrid Michaelson ‘s Alter Egos.

What was your first live music experience? Which venue and which artist(s)?
The first concert that I ever bought tickets for was Alanis Morissette at Shoreline Amphitheater in San Francisco.

If you could cover one album in your music library which would it be?
How ambitious and incredible would it be to do Songs in the Key of Life.  I would do Grace by Jeff Buckley.

What artist do you wish more people had in their music library?
Howard Tate.  I am so shocked that so many people don’t know him.  Much like Merry Clayton who came around at a time when there could only be one Aretha. Howard Tate came around when he couldn’t find a space with Sam Cooke and Solomon Burke around.  He is his own thing and special in his own right and I really love his range and his tone.  For me tone is the name of the game.  I love his records and they are beautiful.

Morgan James City Winery Atlanta Set List

  • Up In Smoke
  • Hunter
  • You Thought Not
  • Unworthy
  • Making up for Lost Love
  • Ransom
  • Emotion (Mariah Carey Cover)
  • I Can’t Stand the Rain (Tina Turner Cover)
  • Pity
  • No Faith
  • Say The Words
  • Drown
  • Call My Name (Prince Cover)
  • Take Me Home (Phil Collins Cover)
  • Sledge Hammer (Peter Gabriel Cover)

I discovered Morgan James a few years back when I was in a mood to hear some Nina Simone and stumbled across “Morgan James Live.”  Covering an artist like Nina Simone and having the chops to put it on “wax” is one hell of a way to break onto the music scene.  Morgan James did it in a way that suits her well, on stage live, and didn’t try to mimic Nina Simone.  I’m so very pleased to have had this chance to see her perform live at the City Winery Atlanta.

With a fully functioning winery, live music and a great menu City Winery Atlanta is venue to visit and visit often..   Check out The City Winery Atlanta’s schedule of events and find some live music to enjoy over a glass of wine..

Morgan James “Call My Name”

Prince is my favorite performer of all time and I know how very few times he has authorized a cover of his music.  But after hearing Morgan James he approved the release of “Call My Name” on the Hunter album.  As she closed the song she shared “Prince gave me his blessings to release that song… I always think to myself that if nothing else ever happens to me in my life but that.  There was this one time Prince thought I was good.”  Take a listen and let me know what you think.