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Morgan McHugh steps out on his own with debut album

Singer-songwriter launches solo career with powerful, intimate music

Morgan McHugh, Bellingham musician, practices his new material on Jan. 30 on Prospect street in Bellingham.
Bellingham musician Morgan McHugh practices his new material Jan. 30 on Prospect Street in Bellingham. (Jack Warren/Cascadia Daily News)
By Jesse Stanton CDN Contributor

Morgan McHugh has been making music around town for a while, growing up in a musical family who perform as The McHughs. Now, though, he’s stepping out on his own, with a remarkably self-assured debut album, Live at Mojo. He’s got an album release show coming up on Thursday, Feb. 22 at the New Prospect Theatre. I checked in with him recently to get all the details. 

There are hints of country, bluegrass and blues, but for the most part it’s straightforward singer-songwriter folk. When we spoke recently, he mentioned John Prine and Jim Croce as classic favorites, and folks like Gregory Alan Isakov, Tyler Childers, Chris Stapleton and Brandi Carlisle as modern-day inspirations. If you’re a fan of any of those acts, you’ll probably enjoy his music too.

McHugh has a great voice, smooth and melodic with just a hint of grit whenever it’s needed. His deft guitar playing brings lots of extra melody to the songs, whether he’s strumming or fingerpicking. The lyrics are mostly autobiographical, with a melancholy thread running throughout. My favorite lyrics are in “Dirty Dishes,” a clear-eyed look at the realities of romance that features the line, “It’s hard to tame musicians.”

I thought it was a bold choice to launch his solo career with such a stark, unadorned recording. According to Morgan, “I wanted to show it raw, just me and my guitar.” Lately he has been collaborating with another guitar player, who will join him for some songs at the release party and possibly more often thereafter. He recorded the album all the way out on the East Coast, with producer Charlie Cantrell at Mojo Music Studio in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The production quality is immaculate, capturing every nuance of the performance and making it seem like you’re in the room with him.

In addition to the show at the New Prospect, he’s got some other fun gigs lined up, including an April 7 appearance at the Blue Room’s new Sunday afternoon folk club series. I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more of him in the years to come, and we just might have to share him with the rest of the world. 

News

We’ve got quite the confluence of holidays this week, with Fat Tuesday on Feb. 13, followed immediately by Valentine’s Day. For Mardi Gras vibes you could try Bayou on Bay, where the Mighty Bayou Opossums are playing a Fat Tuesday show. If you’re looking for something romantic the next day, there are some great jazz shows at both the FireHouse and the Blue Room that could fit the bill. 

New Tim Mechling has a new psychedelic rock album coming out soon, and he just released a video for the first single, “Credits Roll.” It starts off calm and acoustic before building to a wild electric crescendo, courtesy of some electric guitar from his Washingtones Records partner Sam Chue. I’m definitely looking forward to hearing this album in a few weeks. 

One other notable local release that’s out now is the self-titled debut by the Acoustic Jazztet: guitarist Jamie Findlay, saxophonist Brent Jensen, and drummer Steve Tate. This group has been working together for a while now and they show off some intricate interplay on this gorgeous set of tunes. It’s the kind of music that you could enjoy in the background for its smooth textures, but it will also reward all the attention you give it if you just sit and listen carefully to these three masters of their craft. 


JESSE’S PICKS

DeVotchka
Thursday, Feb. 15, Mount Baker Theatre, 104 N. Commercial St.

DeVotchka are a rock band out of Denver who integrate a grab bag of international genres and non-rock instruments into their dramatic, unpredictable sound. Normally when they come to town they pack the Wild Buffalo, but this time around they’ve made the leap to the main stage of the Mount Baker Theatre. Tickets are still available for their show on Thursday, Feb. 15.


Uncle Tupelo
Sunday, Feb. 18, The Shakedown, 1212 N. State St.

I’ve got to be honest, I don’t even know which local musicians have signed on to pay tribute to Uncle Tupelo at the tribute night happening Sunday, Feb. 18 at the Shakedown. In my whole long history as a music fan, there are only a very few bands where I heard them for the first time and knew right away they were going to be my new favorite — and UT was one of those. Previous tribute nights at the Shakedown for folks like John Prine and Townes Van Zandt have had strong lineups of performers, so I suspect this one will as well.  

Mick Jenkins
Tuesday, Feb. 13, Wild Buffalo, 208 W. Holly St.

Mick Jenkins can veer from rapping intense lyrics to crooning gentle soul melodies, sometimes even in the same song. His Tiny Desk Concert gives a great overview of his range of skills, if you want to check him out before his show at the Wild Buffalo. 


LIVE MUSIC LISTINGS

Friday, Feb. 9

  • Aslan Depot: 7 p.m., Cuttlefish
  • Buxton’s: 7 p.m., Rock The Island Battle of the Bands
  • Conway Muse: 8 p.m., The Atlantics (classic rock)
  • Corner Taphouse: 7 p.m., Michael Dayvid (acoustic covers)
  • Greene’s Corner: 6 p.m., Tenderpile’s Smile Aisle (jazz)
  • Honey Moon: 8 p.m., Karyn Ann
  • Make.Shift: 6 p.m. V-Day covers show featuring covers of Paramore, Blondie, Operation Ivy, Screeching Weasel, Sugarcult, Fugazi, The Muffs
  • New Prospect Theatre: 7 p.m., Eli West (folk)
  • The Shakedown: 9 p.m., The Outta-Towners, Miles Harris, White Ducks (jazz/rock/pop/blues)
  • Skylark’s: 8 p.m., Sam and Ireland (jazz/soul/folk)
  • Stones Throw: 6 p.m., JP Falcon Grady (folk/rock/blues)
  • The Vault: 7 p.m., Chuck Dingee (acoustic covers)
  • Wild Buffalo: 9 p.m., Snotty Nose Rez Kids (hip-hop)

Saturday, Feb. 10

  • The Blue Room: 8 p.m., Campana, Dank Zavala, Nestra (hip-hop)
  • Birdsview: 6 p.m., Dave Hannon
  • Conway Muse: 8 p.m., Market Street Traditional Jazz Band
  • Greene’s Corner: 6 p.m., Lindsay Street (Celtic)
  • Guemes Island General Store: 6:30 p.m., The Enthusiasts, Jacob Navarro
  • Honey Moon: 8 p.m., Tenderpile’s Smile Aisle (jazz)
  • Make.Shift: 6 p.m. V-Day covers show featuring covers of Fall Out Boy, Eve 6, Third Eye Blind, Dinosaur Jr., Ween, The Backstreet Lovers
  • Mount Baker Theatre: 7:30 p.m., Martha Scanlan & Jon Neufeld (roots/Americana)
  • Old Edison: 8 p.m., County Rose Band (country)
  • Ramble Tamble: 8 p.m., Paige Woods + Friends (acoustic jams) 
  • Rockfish: 7:30 p.m., Cardova (funk/R&B)
  • The Shakedown: 9 p.m., Redshift, Disaster Queen, Proud Failures (punk)
  • Skagit Cellars: 6 p.m., Spider Cult (cabaret folk)
  • Skylark’s: 8 p.m., JP Falcon Grady
  • Stones Throw: 6 p.m., The Problem (jazz)
  • Wild Buffalo: 8:30 p.m., SpaceBand (hip-hop/R&B covers)

Sunday, Feb. 11

  • Kulshan: 5 p.m., E. Pruitt (funk/jazz/R&B)
  • Old Edison: 5:30 p.m., Pacific Twang (country)

Monday, Feb. 12

  • FireHouse Arts and Events Center: 3:30 p.m., Geof Morgan (singer-songwriter)
  • Kulshan: 6 p.m. The Steel Reserve (honky-tonk/classic country)
  • Lincoln Theatre: 7:30 p.m., Mark Hummel’s Blues Harmonica Blowout
  • Ramble Tamble: 7:30 p.m., Wild Geese of the West

Tuesday, Feb. 13

  • Aslan Depot: 8 p.m., Jazz Night
  • Bayou on Bay: 6 p.m., Mardi Gras ft. Mighty Bayou Opossums (music of New Orleans)
  • Beach Cat: 6 p.m., Michael Dayvid
  • Culture Cafe: 7 p.m., Open Mic 
  • Hotel Leo: 7 p.m., Swing Dance ft. Pace Trumpet
  • Menace: 7 p.m.,  Invitational Blues Jam
  • Ramble Tamble: 8 p.m., The Elevator Club (hip-hop showcase with open cypher)
  • Underground Coffehouse: 7 p.m., Open Mic
  • Wild Buffalo: 8:30 p.m., Mick Jenkins, TOBi (hip-hop)

Wednesday, Feb. 14

  • The Blue Room: 7 p.m., Message Received (jazz) 
  • FireHouse Arts and Events Center: 6:30 p.m., Brian Kirk Quartet (jazz)
  • Honey Moon: 8 p.m., Open Mic
  • Lincoln Theatre: 7:30 p.m., Heart by Heart (tribute to Heart)
  • Littlefield Celtic Center: 7 p.m., MacIsaac, MacGillivray, MacDonald, Sutherland and Martin (traditional Cape Breton and Scottish folk)
  • New Prospect Theater: 5:30 p.m., Open Mic
  • Rockfish: 6 p.m., Dana Osborn
  • Stones Throw: 6 p.m., Tod Kimbro

Thursday, Feb. 15

  • Admiralty Lounge: 7 p.m., Russell Thompson (singer-songwriter)
  • Brown Lantern: 8:30 p.m., Open Mic
  • Farmstrong Brewing: 6 p.m., Charlie Partin
  • Greene’s Corner: 6 p.m., Shady Groove (acoustic Dead/bluegrass)
  • Mount Baker Theatre: 7:30 p.m., Devotchka, Mbrascatu
  • Ramble Tamble: 8 p.m., Jazz Jam ft. The Problem
  • Thirsty Badger: 7 p.m., Open Mic
  • That’s What I Like! Island Grill: 6 p.m., JP Falcon and Friends (folk/rock)
  • Zeeks Pizza: 7 p.m., Song Wranglers (acoustic Americana)

Friday, Feb. 16

  • Aslan Depot: 7 p.m. Cozmic Sauce (R&B/funk)
  • Bertelsen Winery: 5:30 p.m., Rock Radio (classic rock/blues)
  • Blue Room: 8 p.m., North Sound Soul
  • Fireside Martini and Wine Bar: 7 p.m., Fritz & The Freeloaders (acoustic rock)
  • Greene’s Corner: 6 p.m., Delta Promenade (acoustic blues)
  • Honey Moon: 8 p.m., Robert Sarazin Blake (singer-songwriter)
  • Make.Shift: 8 p.m., Fades.Blue, Vastchains, Seaside Tryst, Pathos (electronic)
  • Shakedown: 9 p.m., Big Business, Monsterwatch (rock)
  • Skagit Casino: 8 p.m., Surround Sound
  • Skagit Cellars: 6 p.m., Jaden Oscar
  • Skylark’s: 8 p.m., Michele D’Amour and the Love Dealers (blues)
  • Stones Throw: 6 p.m., Neighborhood Songwriters Showcase ft.?
  • Thirsty Badger: 8 p.m., Michael Dayvid
  • The Vault: 7 p.m., Song Wranglers (acoustic Americana)
  • Wild Buffalo: 9 p.m., #All4Doras, BaeWatch (boy band and girl group pop tributes)

Saturday, Feb. 17

  • The Blue Room: 8 p.m., Cuttlefish, Meldrop, Midpak (rock)
  • Birdsview Brewing: 6 p.m., Queen’s Bluegrass
  • Downtime Taps: 7 p.m., Silent Cowboy
  • Farmstrong Brewing: 6 p.m., Songwriters Saturday ft. Savanna Woods, Joshua Red Uttech, Tom Buenger, more
  • Honey Moon: 8 p.m., Serafima & The Shakedowns (country)
  • Old Edison: 8 p.m., Cory Vincent & The Electric Band (rock)
  • Make.Shift: 8 p.m., Maxx Shredroom, Everything Oscillating, Bullets or Balloons (rock)
  • Ramble Tamble: 8 p.m., Low Hums, Nobody’s Peach (folk/country)
  • Rockfish: 7:30 p.m., Randy Weeks and the Silent Treatment
  • The Shakedown: 9 p.m., PaperHeart (alternative rock covers), DadCo (Bad Company tribute), Without a Doubt (No Doubt tribute)
  • Skagit Casino: 8 p.m., Surround Sound
  • Skylark’s: 8 p.m., East Coast Dave (roots/Americana)
  • Stones Throw: 6 p.m., Gruv
  • Swinomish Casino: 8 p.m., Midlife Crisis & The Alimony Horns (blues/R&B)
  • That’s What I Like! Island Grill: 6 p.m., Michael Dayvid
  • Underground: 8:30 p.m., The Takers (hard rock covers)

Sunday, Feb. 18

  • The Blue Room: 3 p.m., Tango Cowboys
  • Kulshan: 5 p.m., Katie & Kevin (folk)
  • Old Edison: 5:30 p.m., The Walrus (classic rock)
  • Ramble Tamble: 8 p.m., Electra Lee, The Secret Beach, Sunflecks, Elise Poirier (folk)
  • The Shakedown: 8 p.m., Uncle Tupelo tribute night
  • Wild Buffalo: 8 p.m., The Bones of J.R. Jones, Byland (roots rock)

Jesse Stanton's music column, The Beat Goes On, appears weekly. Reach him at jsbhammusic@gmail.com; @JSBhamMusic. Check with individual venues to make sure events are still taking place as scheduled.

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