Good buddies Jessica Pratt and Kevin Morby are clearly delighted to be sharing the bill with each other. They are connected not only by a great friendship and their geographical proximity – they both live in Los Angeles – but also an innate ability to channel music from the past through the prism of the present.
Bob Dylan and Neil Young are regularly cited as primary influences for Kevin Morby but hearing him here tonight you are left with the feeling that Big Star, Emmylou Harris and, perhaps more contemporarily, My Morning Jacket could be more accurate reference points. A former bass guitarist with rustic folkies Woods and subsequent member of Brooklyn garage rockers The Babies, the music that Morby plays today is probably located somewhere between those parameters.
It may be sparing in its arrangements and often takes the most unexpectedly angular changes of rhythmic turns, but the sound that Kevin Morby captures is still incredibly strong on melody and deceptively rich in texture. Continuing local promoter Please Please You’s remarkable run of early autumn gigs – last night Morby had headlined his own show in the Fulford Arms in York – he once again delivers.
Accompanied by a bass guitarist and drummer, Morby draws extensively from last year’s impressive second studio album, Still Life. “Won’t you say a prayer for me, my friend; I’m not dead, but I’m dyin’” he repeats the refrain of ‘Amen’, elevating the song from its inherent sense of morbidity into something altogether more life affirming. And the lyrical content of ‘Parade’ may well assume a similarly sepulchral position but here it too is lifted onto some higher emotional plain.
Jessica Pratt is someone who has also been touched by loss and heartache. A line of sadness does run through her music yet listening to her here tonight – accompanied for all bar the last two songs by the exceptional guitarist Cyrus Gengras – you become so engrossed by the abstract, elliptical, almost psychic nature of her sound all feelings of sorrow just disappear.
Where Morby has been burdened by the Dylan and Young comparisons, Pratt has suffered similarly with the folk epithet. The dozen songs she performs here tonight – also like Morby, taken mostly from her second album, the truly excellent On Your Own Love Again – may have folk music as a very loose touchstone but if comparisons are being sought then Tim Buckley’s Starsailor, David Crosby’s stoned hippie masterpiece If I Could Only Remember My Name, the second side of the vinyl recording of River by Terry Reid and Joni Mitchell’s Hejira would surely merit far greater consideration.
Just like those four classic records, the opening ‘Wrong Hand’, the haunting, hypnotism of ‘Strange Melody’ and the penultimate ‘Titles Under Pressure’ from her self-titled debut album in particular all possess a spectral, almost existential quality. With their apparently jazz-inflected chord progressions, spatial awareness and continual moments of downright dreaminess they have the capacity to move Jessica Pratt, her music and those fortunate enough to be listening to it into a virtual state of transcendence.
Photo credit: Simon Godley
More photos from this show can be seen here