Having left New York for the lush green mountains surrounding Mount Washington, a twist of fate found Kevin Morby’s previous tenants had left an upright piano behind, prompting the American artist to pen a warming collection of protest songs and fantastical tales for his third album, ‘Singing Saw’. It’s a collection that proves Moby’s a gifted, mature songwriter. And if last year gave us the joys of Tobias Jesso Jr’s songwriting proficiency, this year could be Kevin Morby’s.
From the warm analogue production feel to the blemished vocal takes, ‘Singing Saw’ sounds timeless, with flashes of Dylan, cult Searching For Sugar Man star Rodriguez, and Bill Fay throughout. Lyrically, Morby mixes fantasy with protest (highlight ‘I Have Been To The Mountain’ references the death of Eric Garner and the subsequent judicial injustices) and world-weary perception; “Outside, storms cry/Inside, not much better” goes Black Flowers. Though musically Morby balances the depth of lyricism with musical daring, as on ‘I Have Been To The Mountain’, where a sloping bassline transforms the solemn tale with tinges of upbeat funk. ‘Black Flowers’, too, is transformed into an uplifting, choir ballad.
There’s vast instrumentation throughout (horns, trumpets, singing saws on the title track) but there’s little to prove this album was recorded in our tech-friendly times, the most contemporary technology mentioned being a Ferris Wheel on the stripped-back piano ballad of the same name. ‘Destroyer’, with its Highway 61-era instrumentation, sees Morby again putting his fatefully found piano to good use, with weaving saxophone lines crashing in and out. It’s perhaps a reaction to L.A. and New York that Morby has gone backwards in time, wandering his neighbourhood for inspiration. Morby’s gazing at the stars, not Starbucks.
Words: Clarke Geddes
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