Kevin Morby – 'Singing Saw' Review
The ex-Woods man's third is an all-consuming combination of wild imagination and luxurious musical backing
Welcome to ‘Singing Saw’, a surreal world of death, love and murder populated by vultures, coyotes and one wandering man on the verge of losing his mind. That man is Kevin Morby, a 28-year-old folk singer from Kansas City whose world-weary tales ooze the influence of Bob Dylan and Lou Reed. The setting is Mount Washington, a lush, green hillside neighbourhood above Los Angeles where Morby settled after leaving New York – and his previous bands Woods and The Babies – behind in 2013. Using twilight walks into the mountains as inspiration and the shabby house he shares with his girlfriend, his guitars and an old piano as his base, Morby cooked up a glorious third album.
It begins with ‘Cut Me Down’, a story about slaying built on the sinister whirr of the instrument the album is named after (a hand saw played with a bow), plucked acoustic and smooth bass. “So why not do it now/ And cut me down,” Morby sings, vividly describing a tearful protagonist about to breathe his last as vultures circle overhead. In contrast, the death that inspired second track, ‘I Have Been To The Mountain’, is real. Framing the story of Eric Garner – the African-American man choked to death by New York police in July 2014 – in Mount Washington’s idyllic landscape, it evokes The Clash’s rootsiness. As Morby deadpans “That man lived in this town/ ‘Til that pig took him down”, we’re in powerful protest song territory.
After that, fantasy takes over: fuzzy piano stomper ‘Dorothy’ finds Morby serenading his guitar, ‘Water’ has him on his death bed and stormy ballad ‘Black Flowers’ references “winged horses”. But the seven-minute title track is the best distillation of what this album is: namely, an all-consuming combination of wild imagination and luxurious musical backing. More perfectly-judged bass (seriously, this record grooves hard) provides a platform for guitar, musical saw and child-like female backing vocals to spook you out. Meanwhile, a damaged-sounding Morby recounts one of his night-time strolls: “Big moon above me/ Old coyote, laughing at me”.
He sounds similarly out of it on the dreamy-as-hell pair ‘Drunk And On A Star’ (“I’ve gone dizzy, like a ship/ When that water comes into it”) and ‘Ferris Wheel’ (“Well I lose my mind, sometimes”). By the end of this sublime record, you’ll have lost yours too.
Record label: Dead Oceans
Release date: 15 Apr, 2016