Kevin Morby

(Copyright © 2021 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of Use )
Harlem River (2013), 6.5/10
Still Life (2014), 5/10
Singing Saw (2016), 5/10
City Music (2017), 6/10
Oh My God (2019), 5/10
Sundowner (2020), 6/10
This Is a Photograph (2022), 5/10

Now relocated to Los Angeles, singer-songwriter and guitarist Kevin Morby, formerly of the Woods launched his solo career with the elegant and nostalgic songs of Harlem River (2013). The album is drenched in perfumes of the hippy era, and in particular of Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, replete with Al Kooper-ian organ in Miles, Miles, Miles. The nine-minute gothic blues shuffle Harlem River falls somewhere between Leonard Cohen's funereal odes and the Doors' apocalyptic theater. If You Leave If You Marry is a rustic vignette a` la Leo Kottke, while Slow Train is a somnolent, nocturnal soul ballad. The stomping rock'n'roll Reign evokes early blues-rock and Sucker in the Void harkens back to Leonard Cohen's early lullabyes.

Still Life (2014) is an inferior work that rarely reaches the same stylistic or emotional heights. The centerpiece would be the eight-minute Amen, a multi-part suite that begins and ends like a Dylan-ian song but it's rather unfocused. The somber philosophical meditation The Jester, the Tramp & the Acrobat, the gently anthemic All of My Life and the sweet, prayer-like Parade are diligent impersonations of the 1970s singer-songwriter but nothing groundbreaking, so much so that the almost hysterical folk-rock of The Ballad of Arlo Jones sounds like a breath of fresh air.

Singing Saw (2016) boasts the sinister seven-minute singalong Singing Saw, besides the hypnotic and poppy Destroyer and the country-ish ditty Water, but Morby seems to be inexorably attracted by a somnolent mood in songs like Cut Me Down and Drunk and on a Star.

City Music (2017) is both a humbler work compared with the sophisticated arrangements of its predecessors and a more eclectic one. The songs range all over the spectrum: the Lou Reed-ian Crybaby, the quasi-psychedelic seven-minute City Music, the funereal chant Come to Me Now, the punk-rock rigmarole of 1234 that sounds like a tribute to the Ramones, Aboard My Train, a simple folk-rock tune a` la Jonathan Richman, Tin Can, a
Television-style elegy, the downbeat country litany Downtown's Lights, the anemic gospel Dry Your Eyes... His 1960s revival is limited to the catchy and elegant Pearly Gates.

The 14-song Oh My God (2019) is probably double the length it should have been. It contains one of his gentle boogies (OMG Rock n Roll) and one of his emotional crescendos (Seven Devils), songs that one has learned to expect in his albums. It mainly has the somber meditations that best manifest his persona: the jazzy existential atmosphere of No Halo, the moribund half-spoken Savannah, and the slow and minimal Nothing Sacred/ All Things Wild which evokes the most ghostly Leonard Cohen. The album doesn't really benefit from a newly found passion for the piano (exception perhaps the jazzy and shapeless Oh My God). Half of the songs transport the listener back in time, sometimes deep into a mythical musical past, like the old-fashioned ballroom waltz Congratulations and the Broadway-musical aria Piss River.

Sundowner (2020) proved that Morby had mastered a whole range of styles. He chooses a spartan format for the vivid portrait of the seven-minute A Night at the Little Los Angeles, while Brother Sister veers into Ennio Morricone-esque spaghetti western while embracing Leonard Cohen's lugubrious delivery. The arrangements have never been so discreet and the album is dominated by calm and poignant ballads like Campfire and Provisions. Valley is the Dylan-ian litany du jour. Best is when he loses his balance: in the distortion and martial beat of Wander, in the dissonant turbulence that hijacks the plain piano sonata Velvet Highway.

This Is A Photograph (2022) is another erratic and perhaps self-indulgent collection that highlights Morby's ability to concoct eccentric stylistic hybrids but also displays his excessive reliance on subdued, anemic, nostalgic ambience. His musical intelligence peaks with the the blues-jazz-rock neurosis This Is a Photograph and the chamber pop-jazz A Coat of Butterflies, and the stately folk-rock lullaby A Random Act of Kindness is a statement to his melodic gift.

(Copyright © 2021 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )