Sombre subject matter meets uplifting instrumentation on Kevin Morby’s third studio album ‘Singing Saw’. Opener ‘Cut Me Down’ sounds as though it could have been written for Johnny Cash’s ‘American’ series of recordings. The song is an admission of defeat, conjuring up imagery of a duel in the Wild West and a man coming to terms with his impending demise
First Single, ‘I Have Been To the Mountain’, is a song written following the death of Eric Garner, a man who was suffocated by a New York City policeman whilst being put in a restraint. “That man lived in this town/ ‘Til that pig took him down”. Morby’s soft voice is lifted by gospel-like backing singers, thumping drums and solemn piano as if they are following him back down from the mountain and into the world with a new perspective.
Inspired by night time walks through LA, the title track ‘Singing Saw’ is a highly stylized funeral march with a sauntering groove, driven by the kick drum and shuddering bass guitar. The track paints a picture of a bright and beautiful place taking on a more sinister personality. An actual singing saw is used to replicate the call of wild animals and strange noises that may be heard throughout an evening in L.A, which creates a shared experience with both listener and artist.
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Hazy ballad ‘Drunk and On A Star’ is the soundtrack to a come down in the early hours of the morning once you realise the night has escaped you. Morby uses his trademark tremolo laden guitar to add a simple depth to the recording which is strengthened considerably by string section, Oliver Hill and Eliza Bagg.
Second single ‘Dorothy’, named after his guitar, is pure fuzzed out folk rock for laid back suburbans. Again it sees Morby reflect upon his childhood and the songs he used to hear with interludes of solo piano and trumpet, answering his question of how those old songs got their sound.
The album is Morby’s first to be written whilst not being on tour. Following his decision to record in LA he decided to stay and it has since been the place he has resided for the longest. Having time to relax and take in his surroundings has led to subconscious memories finding a way into his songwriting. The doomed characters that litter his lyrics seem to parallel those of the Bible and though not a religious man, he did grow up within the bible belt and the influences are prevalent. The album ends with a Dylan/The Band-esque track and although the influence is there, Morby more than stands on his own two feet in terms of his ability. ‘Singing Saw’ is undoubtedly an album that gives the listener more each time it is played and Morby himself is fast turning into a very special and important songwriter.
‘Singing Saw’ is out on the 15th April 2016 via Dead Oceans.
This Kevin Morby article was written by Glen Marr, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse. Photo by Sophie Caby