Kevin Morby’s “Singing Saw”Cuts With A Well-Honed Blade

When Kevin Morby left Woods right after they produced Bend Beyond, an unqualified masterpiece, it was an expression of confidence as startling as his leaving Kansas City at age 18, heading for the Big Apple on a bus.  Why would you leave the most accomplished, ambitious band in Brooklyn unless you had something to say?  Kevin Morby had something to say.

On two solo albums, 2013’s Harlem River, followed by Still Life one year later, we got a sporadic glimpse of how charming his urban take on alt.country songwriting could be.  Though he later moved from Brooklyn to L.A., on his new one, Singing Saw, he came back east to work with Sam Cohen (Apollo Sunshine, Yellowbirds)  and now we know just how deeply a sharp blade can cut wood, or if you’re of a certain cast of mind, cut Woods.

On the title track, Morby and his excellent musicians build to what ultimately sounds like an acoustic version of Talking Heads’ “Stay Hungry.”  “I Have Been To The Mountain” punctuates Calexico horns with a Sam Cohen guitar solo that peels the eyeballs. It’s on “Dorothy,” one of those perfect American rock songs that seems to have always existed — Morby just being the medium to wrestle it to tape — that we understand fully why he couldn’t have been content staying within Woods, for as simpatico as he is with Jeremy Earl’s restless musical vision, Morby, like Ron Wood before him, has his own record to do.  And now he’s finally done it: as gorgeous, ambitious, and pleasing an album as you’ll likely play this year.  (Ha! Ron Wood, Woods, cutting wood, singing saw — this album stirs up more than sawdust…)

We don’t know the geography of Brooklyn well enough to geolocate Morby’s position, but we do know Kings County bands well enough to locate his place.  On “Dorothy,” he reveals a debt to Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houk and his brilliance in hijacking the sound of Willie Nelson’s band and applying it to modern Americana.  On “Ferris Wheel,” it’s a different Brooklyn band that springs to mind — Damon McMahon’s Amen Dunes.  Yes, good company to keep… Woods, Calexico, Phosphorescent, Amen Dunes.  Did we mention Bob Dylan?

Placing Morby in the context of these other artists is meant only to give the uninitiated the coordinates of where to place his music on this brilliant album.  Given how banner advertising supporting Singing Saw has begun to stalk us on such expensive sites as the NewYorkTimes.com, we get the sense that the uninitiated to Morby will be fewer by weeks end. Don’t wait, don’t hesitate.  A young songwriter of impeccable pedigree has produced the work that will make his name.

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