It wasn’t a huge surprise when Kevin Morby made the move to Dead Oceans. He was due for a wider stage. His last album, Still Life was a leap forward from his debut both in musical depth and lyrical intensity and he doubles down on those qualities for Singing Saw. The album explores an even darker vein from Still Life, delving through explorations of life’s brief tenure. The biggest change, musically, comes from a new reliance on piano as a centerpiece. Before, Morby’s ballads were charged by his guitar and lonesome troubadour delivery, but the influence of Sam Cohen’s production brings the instrument into the forefront while also filling out Morby’s world with a gorgeous array of strings and brass, keys and percussion.
The album has a gravitas that places it on a shelf above Morby’s past work, solo or with The Babies. Its restless and strangely world weary for a person so young, but maybe that’s just an old soul peeking out through Morby’s songs. It feels like a soundtrack to a movie with little dialog and long pensive shots that carry menace in their bones; eyes in the rearview, deserted gas stations and looming mountains that never seem to get closer. The lyrical arcs evolve like the light coming over that stretched horizon. “Cut Me Down” is calm and even, but lyrically it seems like such a foreboding entry point, steeped in sadness and resolution, all qualities that continues on through “I Have Been To The Mountain” and “Singing Saw,” right up until “Drunk On A Star” sighs and lets some of the edge falter. By the closing strains of “Water,” somehow the dawn’s crept in and everything feels like it will be all right, even if deep down those feelings of bleak doubt remain. A gorgeous statement by Morby and a true 2016 highlight.
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