Monday, December 19, 2016

Albums of the Year # 7 Kevin Morby

An album I came across early in 2016, thanks to a friend's recommendation and it's stuck with me all year.

Go Biblical! Old Testament Prophet! Think Ezekiel! That's the way for singer-songwriters looking to evoke the condition of the rural wilderness. Either physical or emotional. To cut beneath the skin and draw blood. Bob Dylan understood this instinctively, as did Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash at his best, Nick Cave and David McComb in the decades since and now it seems, so does Kevin Morby. At least judging by his new, recently released album Singing Saw. Sorry for being so fanciful but this does deserve it.

It's a quite spectacular record. I spent my day at work immersing myself in it. Play upon play from morning to late afternoon until the songs began to burrow themselves into my bones. I couldn't recommend it to you more highly.

Morby is a musician in his late twenties but you wouldn't know he was still flushed in youth, (relatively speaking), listening to this. The record sounds enormously lived in. Haunted almost. He  isn't particularly blessed with an overwhelmingly distinctive singing voice but his writing, lyrics and arrangements richly compensate for this. He's clearly taking Dylan circa-Nashville Skyline as his starting point, very occasionally straying towards vocal inflections slightly too close to home and verging on occasion on parody.

This is a minor carp however. For the most part he manages the balance between drawing on the well of his influences and striking off on his own path incredibly deftly. The album is at its best when it really starts to gather steam and give off heat, and begins to feel as if it must have been written and performed somewhere in the American backwoods back in 1971. When it does, most brilliantly in its seven minute title track, it touches on greatness. That particular song isn't available through direct Internet link here, but I urge you to hunt it down. It's one of the best songs of the year so far, at least among the ones I've come across.

Its companions are far from shamed by its company. I'd like to thank an old friend and supporter of this blog, Rod, who directed me towards this a couple of days back. I'm grateful! Albums like this one seem to come down the pike from America every few years. Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago and Phosphorescent's Muchacho spring to mind. Singing Saw is as good as either one of them, high praise indeed, and one of the very best records released in 2016 thus far.

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