Lorrie Morgan Looks Ahead With Backward-Gazing Album

Singer Will Start Rehearsals in March for Broadway Version of Pure Country

“These were the songs that made me fall in love with music,” says Lorrie Morgan.

She’s talking about her new album, A Moment in Time, a twinkling constellation of 14 country and pop standards recorded the old-fashioned way — quickly and without overdubs.

A Moment in Time joins a lengthening parade of similarly themed albums by women artists of Morgan’s generation, projects that resurrect songs that were popular when the singers’ parents were young and music was less compartmentalized. Among these are Rosanne Cash’s The List, Tanya Tucker’s My Turn and, to a lesser extent, Wynonna’s Sing: Chapter 1 and Patty LovelessMountain Soul II.

Like Cash, Morgan was greatly influenced by a musical father — in her case Grand Ole Opry star George Morgan, a smooth-singing balladeer whose style was more indebted to Bing Crosby than Roy Acuff.

“I love music from yesterday,” Morgan asserts, “whether it’s country, whether it’s pop or that jazzy stuff. It makes me feel like life is still easy and slow. I think I missed my era — back in the good old days when Frank [Sinatra] and Dean [Martin] and those guys would walk in these clubs and just get up and sing and fly from the seat of their pants. I think I’ve just missed my calling.”

The new album isn’t Morgan’s first foray into the classics. In 1998, she released Secret Love, a collection that included such exquisite pop durables as “Once Upon a Time,” “I Wish You Love,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “My Foolish Heart.”

Moreover, Morgan was the only country artist — apart from genre-striding Willie Nelson — to be featured on Frank Sinatra’s last collaborative venture, Duets II, in 1994. Sinatra’s people sent the album’s producer, Phil Ramone, to Nashville to record Morgan’s vocal.

“I was so flattered that I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel or act,” she recalls. “I couldn’t believe it, because I’d watched Frank since I was a little girl and fell in love with him. And now I’m singing this duet with him.

“Of course, he wasn’t there [in person]. He wasn’t there for anybody’s duet at that time. When he started singing, when I heard him come in on the headphones, I thought I was going to pass out.”

A Moment in Time reveals Morgan’s wide-ranging affections for and deep knowledge of the country canon. Thus she offers such rock-tinged fare as “Cry” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” the easy-listening strains of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Misty Blue” and the solidly hillbilly utterances of “After the Fire Is Gone” and “Wine Me Up.”

To her great credit (and the common good), Morgan also revives two songs from the ill-fated Mel Street’s catalog — “Borrowed Angel” and “Lovin’ on Back Streets.”

After a meteoric rise in the early ’70s, Street killed himself in 1978 on his 45th birthday.

“I never met him, but I was always a fan,” says Morgan. “When he killed himself, it was like the shock of the world.”

The remaining songs are “Leavin’ on Your Mind,” “Break It to Me Gently,” “Easy Loving,” “’Til I Get It Right,” “All Right (I’ll Sign the Papers)” and “I’m Always on a Mountain When I Fall.”

“When we planned to do this album, I was really skeptical,” Morgan explains. “I said [to producer Wally Wilson], ’You know, everybody and their brother is doing these classic songs, and I just don’t want mine to get lost in the shuffle.’

“So Wally and I came up with the idea that we would cut it live to track, no overdubs — zilch — and that’s with the strings, the background vocals and all the musicians. Nobody was in a booth. We were all in the big room together just like they did when my dad recorded. And we did 14 songs in two days.”

The recording sessions were also taped for release on DVD, Morgan adds. She’s not certain yet, she says, when or how the DVD will be made available to fans.

Although she has continued to perform, Morgan’s focus for the past couple of years has been on writing songs. The upshot of that activity is another album, I Walk Alone, which is due out soon. She wrote or co-wrote all the songs and co-produced it with Mark Oliverius.

“It took almost two years for me to write the album,” she says. “It’s kind of like the soundtrack of my life. It’s a very raw album. We didn’t do a lot of bells and whistles with it. We wrote it in blood. It was great therapy for me.”

Still youthful-looking and vibrant at 50, Morgan will begin rehearsals in March for the Broadway production of Pure Country, a spinoff of the 1992 George Strait movie. The stage version will star Joe Nichols with Morgan playing his scheming manager. She says the part calls for her to sing ” four or five” songs.

A few years back, Morgan auditioned for and won the starring role in a Broadway revival of Calamity Jane. “But it came at a really bad time in my life,” she says, “and I had to pass on it.”

Prospects are rosier now that her kids are grown. Morgan, her 28-year-old daughter, will start nursing school in January, and Jesse Keith, her 22-year-old son with Keith Whitley, has already launched his singing career.

“I am so excited [about the play],” Morgan exclaims. “It’s going to be another stretch for me. But, you know, I get bored easily. This is something that’s come at a great time in my life. My kids are grown and off doing their own thing. I don’t have that motherly guilt.

“It used to be when I’d go on the road, my heart would just break. I would think, ’Oh, I need to be going to their basketball games. I need to be doing something with my kids.’ Of course, I didn’t have a choice. I had to go. That’s how I made my living. But now I can dedicate this time and really try and perfect this character than I’m going to play. I can really take some time for Lorrie.”

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.