Kevin Morby, formerly of Woods, erstwhile frontman of The Babies and sometime Band tribute performer in side project The Complete Last Waltz, is just about to release his third album. And I think it’s fair to say that he’s really hit the motherlode with this one. It’s a thing of beguiling beauty throughout – as Kevin told me in God is In The Tv’s recent interview, he was greatly inspired by the nature of Mount Washington, California, and this is a key aspect of Singing Saw.
I’m fairly sure that if you played this album to ANYONE, and asked them to come up with five words to describe its sound, “outdoor” would top the list, Morby having somehow captured the stunning wildlife in his own mind and channeled it triumphantly into these terrific compositions.
The way ‘Cut Me Down‘ begins the album feels a little like Leonard Cohen covering a classic JJ Cale number. That’s some accolade, I know, but as soon as you hear the dulcet, restrained tones of its opening bars, it is immediately apparent that this is going to be a very special ride indeed. ‘I Have Been To The Mountain‘, which follows, is a ravishing success, a more uptempo number that uses a bass line similar to Bentley Rhythm Ace‘s ‘Bentley’s Gonna Sort You Out‘ and, perhaps having taken its cue from Martin Luther King’s infamous 1968 swansong speech, is utterly compelling.
The ethereality which pervades throughout Singing Saw – and in particular its title track – no doubt makes it the clear centrepiece here. Otherworldly streams of consciousness drift in and out of view, sometimes in hazy, grainy black and white, other times in glorious technicolour. There is no let up though – during this particular song, throughout its seven minutes and sixteen seconds, you can’t help but feel like you’ve been transported to another land. A land which is visually divine, yet extremely confusing – a beautiful nightmare, if you will.
By the time we get to ‘Dorothy‘, the album’s exhilaratingly brilliant midpoint, it’s something of a relief. If The Jesus and Mary Chain had written a song for Mikal Cronin, and he, in turn, had enlisted the services of a certain Brian Wilson on production duty, I’m fairly confident that it would have sounded something like this. Thereafter, Singing Saw is made up of gorgeous piano ballads (‘Ferris Wheel‘ is a personal favourite), idle whimsy (“outside, storms cry / inside now, not much better – stormy weather” from the charming ‘Black Flowers‘) and country fuelled Father John Misty like showstoppers like finale ‘Water‘.
You hear a lot of people complaining these days about the lack of “all killer no filler” albums being released, but I would suggest that even those folk could find precious little to whinge about here. This is a landmark album in Morby’s career and a defining record of 2016. A quite outstanding album.