Whitey Morgan & the 78’s have surprises at Sam Bond’s Jan. 22

He keeps coming up with new surprises

Whitey Morgan
Whitey Morgan

Whitey Morgan is no stranger. He’s played Eugene countless times. But no matter how well we think we know the man, he keeps coming up with new surprises. In late 2014 he released two records side by side, each of which offers its own clear window into Whitey’s soul.

The first, Born, Raised & Live From Flint, is just the way it sounds — a raucous, whiskey-soaked performance for a sold-out crowd in Whitey’s Michigan hometown. The second, Grandpa’s Guitar, is an all-acoustic collection of songs dedicated to Whitey’s grandfather, the man who taught him how to play guitar and pick along to country.

This second album is softer and certainly more heartbreaking than the live record. The title track is fat and swollen with emotion — a tear duct about to burst. Whitey’s voice sustains its usual crisp twang, but there’s something in the formation of each word that sounds as though he’s set to choke.

“These songs are as close to the real me as I have been in a long time,” Whitey writes of “Grandpa’s Guitar.” And that about sums it up. From the first new-string pluck of “You’re Still On My Mind” to the drunken, motel-recorded slurs of “Dead Flowers,” the songs on this record — some of them prior hits — take on new personalities.

In accordance, Whitey himself also shape-shifts: This is a man known for his board-stompin’ good times, howling harmonicas, slithering dobro and square-dance honky-tonk swing, but “Grandpa’s Guitar” shows a pensive, intimate Whitey, spurred by something deeper.

“This album is dedicated to my Grandfather, William Henry Morgan,” Whitey writes. “I picked a couple that he loved and some that have always kept me company in many dark, lonely motel rooms across the country.”

To wrap the whole thing up, Whitey threw in the emotive kicker: The closing track is a cassette-tape recording of Grandpa himself, picking away in a dark basement, another place and time, saved forever in a shoebox somewhere in Whitey Morgan’s strange, surprising world.

Whitey Morgan & the ‘78s play with Nashville’s Joe Fletcher 9 pm Thursday, Jan. 22, at Sam Bond’s; $12. 21-plus.