You know the story: comely girl-next-door can’t take another Windy City winter, so she packs notebooks full of song lyrics and her boyfriend into the cutest used car on the lot and points the headlights towards California. Along the way, puppy love catches rabies. He slams the passenger door behind him, she continues west, mascara streaking down her cheeks. She finds an open mic night in LA. He walks in during the encore. They get back together. They break up. They get back together again. They feel LA changing them, but it’s just so damn pretty out there that they can’t bring themselves to care. The shack they’re crashing in on the beach starts to feel like home
If you followed Greta Morgan’s recent sojourn from venerated Chicago band the Hush Sound, you probably heard a few of her postcards from the coast on December’s “Gold Motel EP.” Now we have the full travel diary, “Summer House,” which shuffles the EP’s five tracks with five new songs, each one shimmering like Pacific surf. If you’re still looking for a “summer jam,” as the kids say, this is a good place to start.
Hush Sound fans are going to find a twinkle more pop than they’re used to, and a bit less bite in Morgan’s voice. A bright and bubbly guitar line sends opener “We’re on the Run” rolling down the highway, and Morgan isn’t entirely comfortable chasing after it. Maybe she misses a note or two by a half-step here or there. The chorus settles into her more natural range, and then on the next verse she’s reaching for the high notes again. You don’t hear this stuff on big studio pop records. Morgan could have grabbed the nearest Pro Tool and scrubbed away that oh-so-subtle hint of strain. Instead, throughout “Summer House” she’s not afraid to sound unsure of herself, hesitant, a little vulnerable. Which of course is the whole point. “Everything is just fine ... Everything is just right,” Morgan sings on “Perfect,” fooling no one but herself. Leaving home is scary. Starting over is scary. Pausing the successful band you formed with someone you’ve known since junior high is scary. Otherwise, why bother?
“Summer House” is blue sky music that can’t quite swat all the clouds from that sunny California vista. Morgan longs to reconnect with her lost road trip lover in front of the clap-happy, girl-group bounce of “Safe in LA.” Then, on the too girly for my taste “Stealing the Moonlight,” she kisses and makes up with Dan Duszynski’s backing vocals. It doesn’t take. “All the greatest loves are the unfinished ones,” she sighs on “Don’t Send the Searchlights” before the power pop kiss-off. Which doesn’t take either: one track later she’s flirting in cowgirl boots on “Make Me Stay,” begging her man to chase after her. Morgan knows as well as we do that this can only end badly, if it ever ends at all.
Like any good Midwesterner, Morgan is as enchanted by California’s carefree sunshine as she is suspicious of it. As the title character of “The Cruel One,” Morgan has an unhappy moment of realization while pacing around a piano -- maybe it’s not just his fault after all. LA has a way of turning nice girls into mean ones, and Morgan is afraid she’s becoming one of them. Feeling out of place and out of love, she wonders “Who will I be tonight?” on a lonely ballad of the same name, her voice cracking as beautifully as a Ming vase. “Tell me that we won’t be ruined, that we won’t get used to it, all of the noise, all of the heat,” Morgan begs on closer “Summer House,” but from the sound of things, the beach party is on, that sun, that sand, and that infectious California sound drowning out the doubt for now.
Fitting that the album’s best song is also its most homesick, lyrically and musically. “Fireworks after Midnight” is vintage Chicago alt-country, with Morgan wishing she could rewrite a Fourth of July memory that’s fading too far into the past for her liking. Leave it to California to send Morgan home feeling old at 22. In Chicago years she’s still just a kid, and, judging by “Summer House,” a very promising one at that.