When former Woods bassist Kevin Morby performed as part of "The Complete Last Waltz" in the winter of 2014, you could say that worlds collided. That night at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY, Morby played alongside myriad artists, from Brooklyn session musicians to Afrobeat players to veterans of the jam band and post-Grateful Dead scenes. While those players and their penchant for technicality are typically seen as outliers in the world from which Morby hails, a new bond was formed between them after running through the mutually adored final concert by the Band together.
While rehearsing for that show, Morby formed a close friendship with musical director Sam Cohen (of Yellowbirds and Apollo Sunshine fame), along with experimental keyboard virtuoso Marco Benevento, who would end up convincing Morby to abandon his plans to record in L.A. in favour of Benevento's upstate New York studio. The result of that recording session is Morby's new Singing Saw LP, an album that finds him light-years beyond his previous release, revealing him to be one of today's most promising singer-songwriters.
While Morby's background in Woods and the Babies made good on his talent for crafting ramshackle folk-rock numbers, the songs on Singing Saw contain far more refined arrangements and instrumentation. Still at the helm are Morby, his scuffled acoustic guitar and his nasal, Dylan-style vocals, but the songs' underbellies now show glimmers of Cohen's virtuosic guitar playing and Benevento's cornucopia of keyboard textures and effects.
But where Cohen and Benevento bring technical prowess, Morby brings taste, which, of course, is paramount when it comes to recorded music. Lyrically, Morby is still singing about fairly common things like love, sadness and going to and leaving various places (mountains figure prominently). Here, however, his words come with a new air of confidence and a heftier emotional weight. Basically, you won't find anybody complaining about players not being able to play their instruments on this one.
For years, a divide has existed between the "indie" scene that Morby descends from and the session, improv scene, from which the players on his album hail. But with the inclusion of Cohen and Benevento, vocalist Alecia Chakor, as well as John Andrews from Quilt on saw, Morby has turned a new stone, and, in doing so, has become a new sort of musical ambassador. It's not bad resume for someone who's yet to turn 30. (Dead Oceans)