Kevin Morby: Singing Saw | Virgin Media
Kevin Morby: Singing Saw

Kevin Morby: Singing SawAlbum review by Rhian Daly | Rating: ★★★★☆

15/04/2016

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It's bold and ambitious to set out to make timeless music – after all, how many people truly achieve that? – but that's what Kansas-raised, Los Angeles-based songwriter Kevin Morby says he attempts to do when writing songs. His third solo album Singing Saw is his latest effort at doing just that and may find him succeeding.

Formerly a member of folk-rock group Woods and punks The Babies, Morby set out on his own in 2013. His previous two solo albums, the shimmering darkness of 2013's Harlem River and the richer, folkier Still Life (2014) have seen him gradually grow into the role of folk storyteller – something this record excels in.

There's a certain atmosphere to Morby's songs, one of shadows and a world that exists almost permanently after dusk. It's there in his arrangements and also his lyrics. Most of the songs have dark edges to them, like opener Cut Me Down, led by shuffling acoustic guitar, but with its creator playing the role of someone who's crying "as vultures circle in the sky", awaiting death.

Destroyer details the breakdown of a relationship ("Have you seen my lover with the long blonde hair?/Everything we did just went so wrong"), loss and estrangement. It slowly drifts until midway through where Morby's pent-up emotion comes out ahead of a downcast sax solo, groaning, "And now I go down towards the dirt/In which we die, die, die, die". 

Zayn: Mind Of Mine

Like Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and Phil Ochs before him, Morby also works politics into his songs. On I Have Been To The Mountain, Morby pays tribute and takes inspiration from Eric Garner's story. The 43-year-old New Yorker died in 2014 after being choked by a police officer as he was being arrested on suspicion of selling cigarettes on the street. Over clicking percussion, Morby sings, "That man lived in this town 'til that pig took him down/And have you heard the sound of a man stop breathing, pleading?" He delivers the lyrics in the same restrained way he sings lines like "I have been to the mountain/And I have walked on his shore", but there's an anger that seethes through the words.

Elsewhere, Morby deals with happier stories. The brass-accompanied, sunny Dorothy, the name he christened his Fender Jaguar, is about all the places around the world he's visited on tour. There are tales of fishermen, smoking cigarettes in strange lands, and nostalgia for old songs, but what's most beautiful about it is how Morby personifies his instrument and talks to it like a soulmate ("And I was thinking about the places I've been/With you always by my side/Like a baby, I held my head and cried").

Only the coming years will tell if Singing Saw is truly timeless, but it bears all the hallmarks of a record that could easily stand the test of time – strong storytelling, classic songwriting and a sound that isn't rooted in any current zeitgeist.

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