Archive for Kevin Morby

Kevin Morby’s Gorgeous “City Music” Should Blare From Apartment Windows Everywhere

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on June 17, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Some years ago, when contemplating the life I would lead in New York after graduating from a college set in the fields and orchards of Western Mass, I would stare at the jacket of Donald Barthelme’s collection, City Life.  A couple in nightdress, he older and somewhat delirious, she younger and game for the dance, seemed to sum up how much better life would be in the big city.

Yesterday was Bloomsday, which celebrates unquestionably the greatest love song to a city ever written, and of course it was fitting that Kevin Morby released his magisterial new album, City Music. For those late to this story, Morby was the bass player in Woods, and co-bandleader of The Babies, and beginning in 2013, a solo artist whose powers increase record-by-record.  His paean to city life is as heartfelt as Joyce’s, and the respect he pays to certain moments in modern urban history resonates deeply with me.

The title track of last summer’s fine sophomore album, Singing Saw, invoked the magic of  Talking Heads’ More Songs About Buildings And Food, and on City Music, the sometime-New Yorker invokes Television, Talking Heads, Garland Jeffreys, Lou Reed, and the Ramones, to name just a few of Fun City’s champions. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Dylan’s a New York artist too. Morby doesn’t.

In a lovely NPR piece published yesterday, Morby walks us through the album song by song. It’s worth a read, revealing as it does how this young artist absorbs influences and uses them as inspiration.  He cites “Marquee Moon,” as the source of the title track’s guitar sound, and it’s as fun to listen to as seeing Wilco cover the original by seminal New Yorkers Television.  On Singing Saw, Morby had the benefit of Sam Cohen as producer and a guitarist whose lines take these completely unexpected left turns; the ensemble assembled on City Life is a congenial and accomplished band that you’d love to see live.  Even on the slow songs, they swing.

Morby’s voice isn’t particularly expressive, but his songwriting and storytelling more than make up for it, and his ambitions seem to be growing.  On Singing Saw, songs like “Dorothy” and “I Have Been To The Mountain” were so strong that they masked weaker material elsewhere on an album that was pretty universally acclaimed, including in these here parts.  There’s no such problem on City Music: every song, even the cover of the Germs’ “Caught In My Eye,” will make you want to play this album loud enough to bug the neighbors in your stifling apartment building.

A year ago, when Morby was able to tell the story of how he picked up and moved from Kansas City to Brooklyn, landing a few weeks later in Woods — then and now, a highlight of modern New York bands — the notion of the Bright Lights, Big City luring him from the midwest placed his narrative in familiar terms.  In City Life, he’s made it, he’s gone from the periphery to the center, like Dylan, like Jimmy Reed of Dunleith, Mississippi, who wrote the song, and Jay McInerney of Hartford, Connecticut, who wrote the book.

Around the time that we sat in our college dorm dreaming of joining the party in New York, we fixated on another great work of its time, Raymond Sokolov’s Native Intelligence.  The novel begins with the college admissions essay written by a young midwesterner who wants to go to Harvard to participate in the intellectual discussions he imagines exist there.  The opening chapter ends with the admissions officer’s notes, written in longhand in the margins: “Grades, SATs, and high-school recommendations all very high.  We will, of course, accept him, but I think he is going to be disappointed with Harvard and depressed by Radcliffe.  Another case of great expectations in the boondocks.”

Thank Heaven young Kevin Morby got on that bus.

 

 

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

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 22, 2016 by johnbuckley100

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.

We Wish We’d Included Violet Woods, Amen Dunes, And Angel Olsen On The 2014 Tulip Frenzy Top 10 List

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on January 4, 2015 by johnbuckley100

It always happens.  We publish the Tulip Frenzy Top 10 List and then discover, often from others’ lists, recs we missed.  So before we tell you what we overlooked, let’s give thanks where it’s due.

From Uncut, we learned about Violet Woods.  From former Woods bassist Kevin Morby, we were turned on to The Amen Dunes.  And from NPR’s Bob Boilen, we learned of Angel Olsen.  Thank you all.

On the self-titled Violet Woods, Fuzzy Lights frontman Xavier — that’s the full name listed in the Uncut write-up — takes us on a quiet ride through British psych pop, and it is sonically gorgeous.  (We hadn’t heard of the Fuzzy Lights either, but that’s a different story.  Let’s just say that Violet Woods is Xavier’s louder band.)  We’re used to smart rock coming out of Cambridge, from Syd Barrett to the Soft Boys to Radiohead, but this is unpretentious guitar jangle that will be reassuringly familiar to anyone who loved The Perfect Disaster or Luna.  If you like Temples, think of  Violet Woods as the quieter, prettier sibling who was grokking on the San Francisco bands, not T. Rex.  We will be listening to this ‘un well into 2015.

That Kevin Morby, whom we admire, felt so strongly about Love, the new album by fellow Brooklynites Amen Dunes, to list it as Numero Uno on his top ten list made us sit up and take notice.  Cut from the same cloth as Kurt Vile and Devendra Banhart, Damon McMahon produces dreamy, droney low-fi pop that can lull and excite at the same time.  It’s a hard combination to pull off, soporific adrenaline, but on the marvelous Love, McMahon and his fellow musicians — usually acoustic guitar, a cello, little to no percussion — produce music for a cold and snowy day.  Gorgeous.

On Burn Your Fire For No Witness, Angel Olsen and a small combo alternately showcase her strikingly emotional quaver against a minimalist acoustic framework and kick the doors down.  It’s a similar dynamic to the one PJ Harvey puts to use, which we know is a hard comparison for a young artist to be saddled with, but yeah.  Angel Olsen’s antecedents are all those strong women who came down out of Appalachian hollers and caused jaws to drop in Nashville, Austin, and New York.  On this album, you have a perfectly self-contained combination of artist and musicians who mesmerize with the rhythm of their counterpoint between hard and soft, hot and cold.

Tulip Frenzy 2013 Top Ten List ™ Shortlist Announced

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2013 by johnbuckley100

So we promised Magic Trick that we would wait for River Of Souls, out Tuesday, before locking the ballot box on the Tulip Frenzy 2013 Top Ten List ™.  We  will save them a spot on the shortlist, okay?  Below, in NO PARTICULAR ORDER are the bands in consideration.

At Tulip Frenzy World HQ, the horse trading, lobbying, and outright bribery are in full force.  We’ve cast a sideways glance at our competitors, and let us just say that this was one of the rare years in which we did not automatically scoff at the Uncut Top 50 list, and they did settle one thing for us:  yes, the Parquet Courts album is to be considered this year, even though it actually was released last November.  But no one listened to it until January 1, when we were all suddenly forced to grapple with a) 2013, and b) the Parquet Courts’ greatness.  But mbv as the Album of The Year?  Please, nice to have Kevin Shields back but it’s not really that good.  Still, could have been worse.

We should note that we are NOT considering the Bob Dylan 1969 Isle of Wight release, even though it finally came out this year, and even though it is simply amazing.  Why is it ruled out by the judges? Because we don’t think that’s right to knock a band in their prime out of consideration just because another incredible album fought its way out of the Dylan archives.  But here’s a pretty great set of bands/artists who will be considered:

Houndstooth

David Bowie

Kurt Vile

Phosphorescent

Crocodiles

Robyn Hitchcock

Parquet Courts

Thee Oh Sees

Kelley Stoltz

Magic Trick

Neko Case

Capsula

Deathfix

Secret Colours

Kevin Morby

Wire

First Communion Afterparty

Mikal Cronin

In consideration: 18 artists.  It’s going to be a long few days of wrangling in these here parts. Stay tuned.

 

Kevin Morby’s Got His Own Album To Do

Posted in Music with tags , , , on November 26, 2013 by johnbuckley100

The Harlem River is not the Big Muddy, it’s not the Colorado, it’s not the Snake.  By the standards of American waterways it’s something of an afterthought, better known for the highway that runs along it than its noble role separating Manhattan from the Bronx. Let’s put it this way: to most people, its most important aspect is that without it, Manhattan would not be an island.  It’s a curious body of water to lend its name to an album as pretty as Kevin Morby’s Harlem River, promising something as pure as the Allagash, though we assure you, you wouldn’t want to drink from it.

But drink deep of this lovely, quiet, sometimes mesmerizing album.  The title track is haunting, and would easily be a hit in that perfect world that so honors nine-minute songs.  “Miles, Miles, Miles” is a piece of Americana stolen from the after-hours of the Blonde On Blonde sessions.  It doesn’t take Cate LeBon to make “Slow Train” that perfect song for a Saturday morning when it rains outside, but it helps.

Morby has a nice voice, and we already knew he was a stellar musician from his work fronting The Babies and playing bass in Woods.  The Babies — with their Pixies antecedents and their Brooklyn barroom roots — are not an obvious reference point for a quiet, soulful album like this.  So it’s like Woods, right?  Uh uh, for whereas the brilliance of that brilliant band is projected like a Titan rocket by the strength of Jeremy Earl’s voice, nothing Kevin Morby does is meant to announce itself.  He’s just made a lovely, quiet album we’ll be playing on those rainy Saturdays, on those long car rides, for a long time to come.

Like Ron Wood before him, long, long ago, Morby’s got his own album to do, and we’re glad he did it.

We’ve Been Streaming Kevin Morby’s “Harlem River,” And What A Treat It Is

Posted in Music with tags , , , on November 22, 2013 by johnbuckley100

If you like the music Kevin Morby makes with the Babies, where he sings and plays guitar, and wonder what it might be like were he to go into the studio with, oh, the musicians who recorded Blonde on Blonde, then a treat awaits you Tuesday, when Harlem River is released on Woodsist.  And of course it’s on Woodsist since Morby’s day job is playing bass for Woods.

Can’t wait til Tuesday to listen?  You can stream the whole thing from Pitchfork, bless their little souls, right here.

More next week.

 

Tulip Frenzy Gets Results: New Magic Trick Album Announced For December 3rd Release

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on October 30, 2013 by johnbuckley100

A month ago this very day, the scribblers at Tulip Frenzy World HQ saw fit to ask: Will The Fresh And Only’s Soothsayer be Tim Cohen’s only rec release this annum?  You see, we had of late been playing Cohen’s other band, Magic Trick, over’n’over’n’over agin, and rank their album Ruler Of The Night as nothing less than, well, we believe the word used was “astonishing.”

From across the Twittersphere… hear Tulip Frenzy’s question echo… echo… echo… came a reply: just wait!

And now we know, as an amazing track, “Come Inside,” has just been posted on Pitchfork, who declaim with authority that the third Magic Trick album, entitled River of Souls, will flow freely to the great big sea on December 3rd.  Yes!

This has been a pretty stellar year for new music already, but the final two months will see, at long last, the release of First Communion Afterparty’s Earth Heat Sky, Kevin Morby’s Harlem River, and now Magic Trick’s River of Souls.  Normally we despair of the end of Daylight Savings and the coming of winter.  Not this year!

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