Off the 405: Kevin Morby
Getty Center, Los Angeles
July 9, 2016
L.A.-based folk-rock singer/songwriter Kevin Morby blends his Dylanesque voice and world-weary lyrics with a beautifully structured indie sound, resulting in a meandering atmospheric quality and palpable emotional complexity that is both eerie and sweetly gentle. Formerly part of the successful Brooklyn-based bands Woods, for which he played bass, and The Babies, for which he was creative partners with Cassie Ramone of the Vivian Girls, Morby sought a reset from the lo-fi indie rock and pop-party vibes which defined those respective projects. He moved to Los Angeles and the change of scenery shifted him toward a sound more rooted in the singer/songwriter tradition of the '60s and '70s, particularly echoing Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, placing him in the company of rising contemporaries like Kurt Vile, Steve Gunn, Angel Olsen, and The War on Drugs.
His latest album, the critically acclaimed Singing Saw, was released by the noted independent label Dead Oceans, known for producing bold and timeless recordings as opposed to following cutting-edge trends. In it, Morby plays the troubadour, cycling through the traditional structures of old spirituals while evoking the underground edge of the Beat generation, and bright, guitar-forward rock, realizing an abstract sense of Americana. His lyrics too seem to come from another time, building a loose narrative from recurring symbols—from the carnivalesque Ferris Wheel and the singing saw, to a search for water, interior fire, and black flowers growing in the garden. Remarkably, for all its ageless references, Singing Saw never feels false, overly stylized, or clichéd. Rather, Morby's real achievement is using nostalgia as a vehicle for a universal, genuine, and emotionally sophisticated music.
“Singing Saw is a breakthrough for just how fully formed it is, a beautifully structured and produced record that is nothing short of a triumph.” – NPR Music’s Songs We Love
Photos by Everett Fitzpatrick for LA Record.