Former Woods bassist Kevin Morby has in recent years enjoyed widespread praise for his flourishing, prolific solo career. He’d previously played in the Babies with Cassie Ramone of Vivian Girls. The duo put out a couple of excellent albums before the project was declared inactive.
Since the end of the Babies and his departure from Woods, Morby has kept busy. 2013’s Harlem River marked the start of a slew of releases: four albums in five years, all of which display nuanced songcraft and a rambling folk imagination. But it was last year’s Singing Saw that won him significant acclaim, helped along by favorable coverage from the influential blog Aquarium Drunkard.
Morby’s songs have always tended towards the mournful. Singing Saw is an album of the wilderness: ballads for the somber forests, mystical desert wanderings, folksy hymns of the mountains, and lost souls. His latest, City Music (out on Dead Oceans) embraces new geographies while allowing Morby’s Kansas roots to shine through. City Music plays like an elegy for LA, as the singer-songwriter is wooed by its charms without losing his outsider’s eye for its uglier facets. On album opener “Come To Me Now,” Morby sings “I can’t wait for the sun to go down / Tired of squintin’ at this godawful town.” Over the course of the album, he collages together religious atonement, rock and roll love stories, and the seediness of the forbidding, alienating metropolis. It’s a juxtaposition that crops up often in film, literature, and music alike — a gothic rendering of LA’s sun-baked sprawl.
The narration that opens the title track’s music video intones: “Each night, each bar had a band playing music. And the music was electric. Different than the music back home. As this wasn’t music from the country—but from the city.” Arguably Morby’s best work yet, the slow and wistful City Music is a lovely and lovelorn take on the classic trope of country-boy-in-the-big-city. Pick up a copy and bask in some of its melancholy beauty.
Kevin Morby, Shannon Lay
Great American Music Hall
September 23, 2017