Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Morby’

RSTB Best of 2019

2019’s drawing to a close, so I suppose this is the place to tie it all up. I’ve mentioned in years past that ‘best’ is a hard line to draw around the music from the year. From a blog perspective ‘favorite’ seems more appropriate, but then for all intents and purposes my choices are qualitatively the best to me, if not necessarily quantitatively best in the sense of the zeitgeist. The drive to figure out what’s best seems to just consolidate consensus and we’re all treated to dozens of lists that cross over with each other, especially in the top spots. I’ve long been a proponent of niche. I say long live finding your voice and letting others find theirs – we can all compare notes and discover new music in the process. I don’t need anyone to sand the edges and offer up a list that’s all inclusive. I like the edges. These are my favorites from a great year, edges and all.

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Best of 2019 (so far)

It’s been a hell of a year so far and now it’s time to run down the albums that have stuck around the turntable the longest. For all the fraught emotions and everyday injustices, there’s still some bright spot of solace in music. That’s not a trade-off, but its something to keep you going. As usual, these are the best records that filter through the Raven aesthetic. I’ll be off next week on vacation so this 30-spot plus the ensuing two and a half hour mix will have to hold you for a week. Gonna take a break until the 2nd week of July. The second half of the year already has a few front runners, so enjoy these gems before the tail end of 2019 comes running atcha.

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Kevin Morby on Paul Westerberg – Stereo

As I’ve previously mentioned this week Kevin Morby’s latest is a double-wide opus to spiritual connection and a step away from his usual guitar grounded albums. It’s a big and bold move that’s vaulting Morby even further into the indie rock pantheon’s ranks of ambitious songwriters. That’s not to disparage his back catalog in the least, though. The artist’s rise over the last few albums has been a constant source of joy over here and its great to have Kevin contribute a pick to Hidden Gems. For his pick Morby dips back into his reserve of youthful influences for a Paul Westerberg solo jaunt. Check out how this Midwestern classic came into his life and ultimately what role it played in shaping his own works.

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Kevin Morby

Within the songwriter/downtrodden troubadour ranks Kevin Morby has become a constant confidant. His literate drawl draws out this generation’s atrocities like venom from a bite. His guitars are slung loose and limber, right up until they light a fire under your feet. He’s always had something of a spiritual bent, not religious mind you, but there are some songwriters whose poetry reaches the pulpit without seeking to save. Seems he’s just now embracing it as well and thus, Oh My God is born. The album is a shift for the songwriter, pushing his guitar to the side in favor of a wiped whiteboard relatively free of jangle and strum (though a few solos still crinkle the kindling here and there). In place of his usual tangle there’s a folkloric spread, thrown wide to the panorama of sound – horns hum, flutes tan the timbres, pianos pound from barroom to bedroom and choirs seem to fill the fields rather than the pews of his songs.

There album is conceptually spiritual, seeing the title’s phrase as not a vanity taken lightly, but a hosiah of faith – a mantra that brings us closer in times of calamity. Morby spends the majority of Oh My God helping his flock find the dock in a flood that threatens to consume us all. If ever there was a year for a plea to the powers that be, whether cosmic or of the cloth, it might be 2019. Morby connects to the idea of faith and keeps it a thread in the album’s twisting narrative. His faith isn’t necessarily in the god that pops up in picture books and Sunday service, but a faith in people, faith in art and beauty, faith in the ground beneath his feet, even when he’s 30,000 feet above it.

Woven within his spiritual tableau is a thread of dreams, a waking life conversation with himself that feels hallucinatory. Within Oh My God there’s a Lynchian grandiosity, an idea that what’s been perceived as real may just be reflections and that modern ghost, fables, and prophecies might just be the ones out to get us all along. It’s a big, bold move from Morby and one he pulls off with grace and gravitas. For a weighty double LP, there’s no strain to work your way through his opus, even as the themes turn dark. As he touches on gun violence, the erosion of environmental security, the absurdity of life, the friction of banality, and the overcast certainty of death we’re all there swaying in the circle with him. In these end times the church walls have come crumbling down and whether we know it or not, we’re all part of the church of daily atrocity humming the hymns on a subconscious level. Morby’s just pressing play on the recorder to save it for posterity.



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Kevin Morby – “No Halo”

Excited to see a new offering up from Kevin Morby today. The songwriter’s post-Babies career has only seen him perfect his shaggy L.A. troubadour persona, and with “No Halo” he’s sliding into a refined space – adding a cascade of flutes, stabs of sax, and smoky background vocals to his palette. The song is both a long way from his debut Harlem River, in terms of production, and yet not so removed from the heavy-lidded, heavy-hearted delivery that’s made each new of his records essential. With the expansive approach, Morby also turns in a high-concept video directed by perennial collaborator Christopher Good, who’s been putting his imprint on artists like Mitski, Waxahatchee, Anna St. Louis, and Okkervil River. The new record’s out April 26th from Dead Oceans, which you can apparently pre-order with, a, uh 24-page hymnal and sheet music. I guess. Sure, why not?



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Anna St. Louis

Last year Anna St. Louis released a tape of striking, hushed songs on Woodsist’s small Mare imprint. They hinted at an accomplished songwriting talent and showcased St. Louis’ honeyed drawl, but the tape’s warm emersion in hiss and sunny afternoon vibes didn’t mark it as the kind of release that wrestled for constant attention. So, when her debut proper showed up in the inbox a few months back, I wasn’t quite prepared for the sucker punch to the gut it had in store. If Only There Was A River unfolds like a seasoned country-folk record, feeling classic and eternal like the kind of release that’s canon before it ever hits the shelves. It has an ache in its bones that’s raw and real, but St. Louis has wrapped the record in a lush warmth of an heirloom sweater pulled tight against the chill rolling across the plains. She’s teamed up with Kevin Morby and King Tuff’s Kyle Thomas to work the record into a bittersweet brilliance, gathering grey skies and painted sunset hues to color the spare, yet effective ambience around her tales of heartbreak and woe.

Most of the songs on If Only There Was A River have the kind of deep mournfulness and effortless age that seem like they might underscore a key scene in a Cohen brothers film. Her songs feel universal, timeless and torn in the way the catalogs of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Wanda Jackson often do. She’s most like Van Zandt, though, in her use of simple country cool paired with a just enough orchestration that a song feels gilded, but not so much that it feels gaudy. Van Zandt often chafed in this context. The production hung on him a bit loose, like a borrowed suit, but St. Louis is able to work the same juxtaposition to her advantage. She’s the kind that can walk into any vintage store and not only find something that fits well, but make it her own, casting out the ghosts of previous owners on her way out the door.

The album lends itself to multiple listens, touching different heartstrings each time it winds its way around the turntable. St. Louis’ vocals move from whisper to wrench over the course of the record. She’s a master of producing the pang that grips the guts and chokes back tears for undeserving lost loves. While the touchstones of the past cling to the edges of the record, it doesn’t feel like its looking back. She’s earning a place among albums that transcend eras and in that regard she’s positioning herself to stand alongside fellow L.A. troubadour Jenny Lewis as the kind of songwriter who is comfortable in her heartbreak and carving out a sound that eventually belongs only to her. This release is a large step in that direction and a highlight among 2018’s already stellar showing for music. With the arrival of If Only There Was A River it feels like St. Louis has gained a longstanding place among the artists that scar our souls over time.



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Anna St. Louis – “Understand”

Well there seems to be a unanimous love for this today, but hell, “Understand” is a hard song to ignore. St. Louis’ debut tape for Mare / Woodsist was homespun, sounding like a backporch 8-track session that traded in the intimate and spare. Going in with that cassette in mind, the polish on this first peek at her new album, If Only There Was a River, is considerable. The production from Kyle Thomas (King Tuff) and Kevin Morby has wrangled her beautiful songcraft into the kind of lush country that often fell by the wayside commercially but accrued critical fans and massive cult followings. The label has name checked Townes here, and that’s not far off, but this one’s got more of a Guy Clark vibe (think “She Ain’t Going Nowhere”) mixed with the pristine pop of Nico’s less bracing days.

St. Louis’ vocals ring rich and true, imbuing the song with the kind of classic charm that endears vocalists like Françoise Hardy, Bridget St. John or the aforementioned Nico to a certain swath of filmmakers. The accompanying video is a slow crawl through gorgeous terrain and works as a nice backdrop to the stunner that Anna lays on us all with this song. Gotta hope the rest of the album lives up to this, but with that crew attached and her songwriting skills, it might be safe to rest easy in that department. The LP is out in October, again on Mare / Woodist.



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Anna St. Louis

There’s something inviting, cozy even, about Anna St. Louis’ songwriting. She’s exploring a spare form of folk that’s not at all out of place on a sub-label of the Woodsist Family, but she’s lighting a fire that’s a touch warmer than even their catalog usually embraces. Her songs explore a fingerpicked style that’s immediately bringing to mind Jack Rose, James Elkington and James Jackson Toth. She’s got her ramble and knows how to let it ripple through a song, but St. Louis’ strength comes from expanding the atmosphere with that aforementioned heat – a dusty, homey feeling that makes each song feel as lived in and storied as an old family cabin.

The vocals on First Songs hang in the air with no pretension. They’re unadorned but buzzed around by ringing chords like hummingbirds at dawn. St. Louis has found a way to incorporate a timeless country vision into her folk. When those humid, drenched vibes start to drift off into the horizon she tethers the album down with a fireside simplicity that lets the listener into the room, curled on the floor next to her and sleeping out the sickness with the sound of her pepper and woodsmoke delivery. It’s hard not to fall in love with this one on first listen, and repeated plays really only cement the feeling. This album feels like a scratch demo given a larger audience, so one only wonders what she’ll dig into with a bigger budget and more time.




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RSTB Best of 2016 (so far)

Ok, so deep down I know that the half-year best-of rundown is becoming an expected bit of mid-year clickbait listicle self-love. It’s a totem that’s somewhat unnecessary, seeing how at the end of the year votes get tallied and the same releases get pondered. But since I also have the nagging gnaw that a culture of collective consciousness music press will result in plenty of homogeneous diatribes about what’s been considered the cream of ’16, I figure that it’s worth it to shine some light on a few deserving entities that are gonna to be left out of the party.

Some outlets have gone so far as to tell the world that 2016 has been super stressful for them, what with all the surprise albums needing their immediate attention. Sleepless nights in the review mines, I’m sure. Caffeinated burns through the wee hours that are called upon because absorption of albums over time is heresy these days. No time to listen deep because those other sites are stealin’ your views, siphoning clicks, and by next week those cuts will be far too stale to talk about anyhow. RSTB’s always there to let you know that sometimes its OK to let an album fester under your skin a while. Review it late, review it early, but maybe listen long enough to learn how it impacts you—or at least how it sounds in the car vs. the speakers vs. the headphones.

I’m starting to think that sometimes best should be more relative and less quantitative, and maybe it might be fun if there were a few more outlets with a true voice. But, so went the airwaves, so go the reviews, eh? Ah, maybe I’m just old fashioned. Anyhow, here are the picks. Remember RSTB is never content (n.), and never content (adj.).

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Kevin Morby

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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