Archive for The Babies

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 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.

 

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