KEVIN MORBY – Still Life

Album: Still Life

Artist: Kevin Morby

Label: Woodsist

Release Date: October 14, 2014

Kevin Morby 10-13


Kevin Morby’s second solo record sounds more like a delayed second platter of last year’s superb Harlem River than a free-standing sophomore effort. That’s got its pros and cons: No new ground broken, but no sophomore slump, either.

Harlem River, the ex-Woods’ bassist farewell to his New York years, tapped into all manner of Gotham influences, from Greenwich Village folk to choogling VU, and those elements prevail in these 10 tracks, too. Morby may be in Los Angeles now, but the City of Angels isn’t quite in Morby…yet.

Familiar topics and themes about honesty (“Bloodsucker”), early deaths (“Ballad of Arlo Jones”) and the search for calm in the anonymous bustle of city life (“Motors Running”) pop up again here, too. That adds to the sense that Still Life is a late-arriving postcard from NYC and Harlem River, and when Morby unfurls a leisurely gem like “Parade” — all plangent piano fills, Loaded-like “bah-bah-bah” backup vocals, and horns-accented choruses celebrating and lamenting the urban parade — it’s sure not L.A. that comes to mind.

Like that VU-influenced track, Morby’s success here and on Harlem River lies in taking these familiar touchstones and building new monuments with them. Though opener “The Jester, The Tramp & The Acrobat” recalls Greenwich Village Dylan almost by virtue of its title alone, the track gathers steam from its sparse folky beginnings into full-fledged rock crescendos, while “Ballad of Arlo Jones” injects punk’s breakneck tempo and angry sneer into a died-too-soon friend’s eulogy. “Motors Running” turns the pace into a jittery, jangling Feelies’ trot, and “Drowning” uses distorted bass and a rolling backbeat to evoke T-Rex for Morby’s one-mistake-too-many tale.

Still Life has a few dull spots, too, though. The hypnotic guitar line that props up “Dancer” gets tiresome quickly, the disc-ending love song “Our Moon” leaves little evidence of its having existed once it’s gone, and the piano fills and leisurely pace make “Amen” seem like a weak sister-extension of precursor “Parade.”

These lesser moments certainly don’t tilt the balance against Still Life’s finer ones; they do, though, break the LP’s momentum mid-way through. And while there aren’t any revelatory moments of creative growth here, the best songs on Still Life suggest Morby still had plenty left in the NYC tank. But it’s what comes next that will be of real interest for this talented songwriter as he matures.

DOWNLOAD: “Parade,” “Motors Running,” “Ballad of Arlo Jones”

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