They say that every movement is a reaction against whatever came before – and so it is, sometimes, with record releases. Kevin Morby’s last album, 2020’s ‘Sundowner’, saw him whittle his freewheeling, Dylan-esque folk-pop into scratchy, lo-fi musings conceived with a four-track cassette recorder as he reflected on his roots in the American Midwest. Naturally, this swift follow-up is epic in sound and vision, its sprawling Americana and gritty rock’n’roll taking in the big themes: life, death, love, family and, erm, “tears in the cum rag”.
That this bathroom stall graffiti of a lyric appears on ‘Five Easy Pieces’, a beautiful piano-and-strings ballad seemingly dedicated to a maddening former flame named Bobby, tells you everything you need to know about Morby’s seventh album, ‘This Is A Photograph’. The 34-year-old covers an astonishing amount of ground across 12 tracks, cheerily toasting his worst self atop a chugging ‘50s guitar riff on ‘Rock Bottom’ and wearily blaspheming on the bruised ‘A Coat of Butterflies’: “Hey, man, did you hear Buckley singing ‘Hallelujah’? / He did what Leonard never could to it – gave it wings and then away it was.”
‘This Is A Photograph’ was inspired by the worst of times. Soon after his father suffered a heart attack on the cusp of the pandemic, Morby stumbled upon an old photo of the patriarch (who thankfully recovered) in his prime: chest out, topless and – as the gifted lyricist recalls on the pounding hoedown of a title track – “ready to take the world on”. Later on in the song, Morby flips through to another family snap, which portrays his “mother in a skirt / In the cool Kentucky dirt / Laughing in the garden”, and speculates that “the glimmer in her eyes… seems to say, ‘This is what I’ll miss about being alive’.”
Although this enormous album is, ultimately, an ambitious celebration of life itself, with the artist thumbing his nose at death, its most moving moment is, ironically, also its most intimate. On the elegiac, harp-and-flute-adorned ‘Stop Before I Cry’, our Kev puckers up to his girlfriend Katie Crutchfield – aka fellow indie-folker Waxahatchee. “I wanna go out dancing as soon as the world returns,” he purrs, “‘cause Katie when you’re dressed up, honey – oh, it’s hard to find the words.” Another irony, of course, is that, whether his heart-bursting affirmations are carried by minimalist or maximalist tunes, Kevin Morby has never struggled to find the words.
Release date: May 12
Record label: Dead Oceans