KEVIN MORBY – ” Singing Saw ” Best Albums Of 2016

Posted: May 31, 2016 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Kevin Morby (Woods, Babies) recalls singer/songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s in his solo work, particularly Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, and Singing Saw is his strongest album release to date.

Kevin speaks the language of records. His spare acoustic sound pulls from the late ’60s and early ’70s,  Morby’s earlier work refracted meaning through the lens of his record collection. His debut album, Harlem River, featured one song about a slow train, another about walking on the wild side, and a third with a line about going down to the station with a ticket in your hand, as if were still possible to buy paper tickets ahead of time. His music comes from another place, one where you try and piece together meaning by tapping into a kind of collective unconscious, using whatever tools you have at your disposal. And his references add up to something more than their parts and when paired with his unerring feel for arrangement and style.

Morby’s own albums keep getting better, and some of this we can chalk up to experience. Though he’s not yet 30, he’s been involved with a lot of records—two in his band the Babies with Cassie Ramone from Vivian Girls, A further four as a bass player in the Brooklyn band Woods (Morby is to Woods what Kurt Vile is to War on Drugs: a kindred spirit musically whose quirky vision needed more room than a band could provide), and now three as a solo artist. Singing Saw is his strongest album because it shows a process of refinement, and because Morby’s songwriting has become less referential and more grounded. The basic ingredients haven’t changed, but Morby is figuring out how to retain and amplify his strongest points—his weary and wise voice, his understanding of how the musical pieces fit together—and leave everything else behind.

Singing Saw finds him cool and controlled at every turn, fully aware of his limitations but confident in what he can accomplish within them. His singing is simultaneously intimate and distant, part conversation and part stylized monologue. He’s got a nasally diction with a tendency to stretch vowels that didn’t exist in the world until Dylan first gazed at the Nashville skyline and a fondness for short, direct statements that could have been written a century ago. The songs feature gardens and earth and shadows and fire and tears whose prevailing downward trajectory, yes, brings to mind rain. Single lines don’t really stand out, but Morby’s commitment to such elemental concerns has a cumulative effect, and the album’s lack of specificity becomes a strength.

 

 

That confidence extends to musical choices, including Morby’s tendency to let the small details of the sound do the work—he would never play five notes if four could get the meaning across. And while the core elements of his aesthetic—his deep voice with just the right halo of reverb, gently plucked acoustic guitar— are a constant, subtle instrumental variety abounds, which Morby sometimes takes great joy in pointing out. On “Dorothy,” he sings “I could hear that piano play, it’d go like…” and the buzzing uptempo arrangement falls away leaving a beautiful tumble of keyboard notes, and he follows it a bar later with a paean to a trumpet player that a horn player answers. “Singing Saw” seems to say something about how a single tool can be used either creatively or destructively, and features the titular instrument prominently (and very beautifully).

For Morby, any day-to-day situation or mundane observation could spark something for his next album, and sometimes being that tuned-in can be a curse. “Got a song book in my head,” he sings on the album’s title track, and he climbs a hill past the houses to find somewhere quiet where he can leave them behind. He claims in press notes that he wrote the song about his neighborhood in Los Angeles.

Kevin Morby – “I Have Been To The Mountain” from Singing Saw out April 15, 2016 on Dead Oceans

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