American musician, singer-songwriter from Kansas City Kevin Morby, has released his fourth studio album ‘City Music’ under the label Dead Oceans. The indie/folk rock artist is known for having played bass for the band Woods and being the front man for The Babies before starting a solo career in 2013. On ‘City Music’, we’re introduced to a coming of age, optimistic mood of discovering a city, its urban tales and sights as you walk through places which are bigger than you but carry a personal meaning. Morby doesn’t lose sight of what’s nurtured him into who he is today, recounting experiences through different perspectives and analogies that are wrapped up in his Bob Dylan-like voice as well as melodic goodness.
‘Singing Saw’, his third studio album, saw him reach new heights after it was critically acclaimed by various music platforms and reminded listeners of the 60’s/70’s era, reminiscent of Bob Dylan as well as Leonard Cohen. It includes some marvellous songs like “Cut Me Down”, “I Have Been to the Mountain”, “Singing Saw” and “Dorothy” which I recommend, alongside checking out the whole album:
For this record as the title suggests, Morby takes us through a love letter to the cities he can’t let go off, a journey through modern urban life.We start off with “Come To Me Now”, played with a hazy old pump organ talks through the perspective of an old, solitary woman called Mabel who waits for night to come and only then does she feel relief.
“Crybaby” has a touch of sound from his old band The Babies, in terms of chord progression and his part conversation/laid-back tone which becomes very catchy as the chorus hits. It talks of living outside of society but on its tough days, being overloaded with emotions because of the harshness of the world and Morby tells us to cry it all out baby.
“1234” is an ode to the Ramones, their name being listed during the chorus where the song has a more rock driven chord progression, raw guitar feel, fast-paced and compact into 2 minutes. The refrain of the chorus also stems from Jim Caroll’s “People Who Died”, dedicating the song also to him as being part of artists Morby loved.
“Aboard My Train” is an uplifting song, of good times and innocence which was Morby’s intentions, wanting to write a sort of children’s song reminiscent of Nina Simone and Bob Dylan. He talks of friends and people he’s crossed getting on his train, departing at different stations, hopping on and off through its journey.
“Dry Your Eyes” has an intimate feel to it, Morby whispering in your ear accompanied by oohhs by the backing vocals, the track involving a calmness by us only hearing mostly the guitar and drums, lightly assisted by bass. The lyrics talks of feeling lonely in a big city, not recognizing anyone at popular spots, beautifully melancholic and gloomy from start to finish. “Flannery” cites a poem by Flannery O’Connor, the idea of someone who’s never seen a city, mistaking it as a fire from distance because of all its lights, the direction and sentiment Morby wanted to go for with this album.
“City Music” not only embodies the whole album and feel but has a certain magic with the ballad of guitars, the lyrics repeating themselves of an admiration for the city, its sound and feel, a certain excitement of personal exploration for what you’re discovering.
“Tin Can” has a great, catchy chord arrangement with a “I’m doing my own thing and I’m happy” feeling to it, coming back to the character Mabel and her watching the world go by from her apartment. It contains intertwining guitars and keyboards dancing in the second half of the song, coming together with a shaker as well as claps to tie together an awesome tune. “Caught My Eye” is a cover of a song from L.A punk band, The Germs, which Morby discovered through his roomate Johnny in New York 2006, who loved them. Johnny wished there was a different version of it so people could realize the lyrics it contained, Morby decided to do so years later, fulfilling his friend’s wish in what is a beautiful, raw song. “Night Time” peacefully eases us into the night, with the piano and acoustic guitar standing out through a graceful melody which talks of Mabel again, finally being under the moonlight, half-drunk and remembering friends from the past whilst listening to sad songs on her stereo, daring the world to turn her on.
“Pearly Gates” has a playful look on death, Morby imagining the afterlife as a sort of party past the pearly gates where you wait in line, humming a tune and looking stylish. The title was given after Morby was walking in a snow blizzard, freezing, looking for a church without really seeing anything before finally finding it, being greeted by a choir of young girls singing, a moment reflective of the journey to the afterlife. “Downtown’s Lights” has similar effects as Night Time, calming, smooth with a ballad-arrangement, talking of someone who’s down-and-out, with experience in his life but who’s afraid its all coming to an end and all they can do is send a prayer to Mother Sister.
Kevin Morby keeps expanding and surprising listeners as to how far he can take his music without ever endangering his folk/indie rock sound, “1234” being more rock, “Caught My Eye” originally a punk song, “City Music” a guitar ballad of beautiful harmonies whilst “Night time” and “Downtown’s Lights” slows everything down. Morby has once again shown his songwriting and musical composing keeps developing, this time taking a passage into urban romanticism, optimism and naivety, a step-back from the dark mood recent events has embedded into us.