Morby's seventh album is a triumphant homecoming that reckons with time and mortality in a series of vignettes inspired by the American Midwest
Kevin Morby sometimes feels like he’s past the point of being considered a musician in any traditional sense. His songs are filled with tiny details that would stop you in a novel, yet there’s also a temptation to call them cinematic, in a Robert Altman kind of way. They feel like red rocks and timber, Laurel Canyon and New York. Deeply American but post-Americana and all that’s come to stand for.
Even Morby himself, in his Nudie suits and cowboy boots, bolo ties and nunchucks, seems less like a singer songwriter and more like a character in a 70s ensemble piece or a curious faded photo found in a box in a goodwill store. Striking a pose without posing, effortless cool.
The title might make this a redundant statement, but photographs loom large over Morby’s seventh studio album. This Is A Photograph is almost like a journey brought about by a found photo. A journey that starts at his home in Kansas City and strikes out through Tennessee in search of something intangible.
It all begins with Morby’s father collapsing at home in January 2020. Following the incident, Morby found a photo of his father in his younger days, strong and shirtless in the garden. The dichotomy between then and now resonated as he journeyed through Memphis later that year, visiting too-young ghosts like Jay Reatard and Jeff Buckley, and witnessing a city that still projects strength and vitality after numerous ordeals. All are present on This Is A Photograph, impressively absorbed into Morby’s own stylings, such as on the fired-up ‘Rock Bottom’ or the gentle soul of ‘A Coat Of Butterflies’.
Central to the album is ‘A Random Act Of Kindness’, maybe the best song in a career with no shortage of contenders. Over four minutes of gradual build, Morby sings about all the things that will eventually fall by the wayside: luck, lust, time, trust, grace, style, dreams. As the sun keeps rising with or without you, all that matters is that one moment where kindness brings two people together. It’s a touching sentiment that seems small but impossibly huge and profound.
The record’s movement from Kansas across the Midwest recalls how physical locations have always seemed integral to Morby’s music, particularly noticeable when he moved from the New York of his early solo records to the LA of Singing Saw and Oh My God. This Is A Photograph finds a deeply personal place in between, as Morby returns to the city he left after high school and almost owns up to a reckoning of its role in his life.
Morby’s now made a home there with his partner Katie Crutchfield (of Waxahatchee). Following on from his Sundowner and her St Cloud, there’s no small amount of romance in the fact that their move there has resulted in both of them making the best records of their careers.
This Is A Photograph is out 13 May 2022 on Dead Oceans. Kevin Morby tours the UK in August and September. Get tickets here.