Graham Reid | | 1 min read
When artists head down a spiritual path they inevitably get comparisons with Bob Dylan in his gospel phase, the more questioning moments of Van Morrison or Leonard Cohen, and maybe a bit of Bono. Most of whom have been invoked in considerations of this album by Kevin Morby whose Dead Oceans debut Singing Saw was something of a quiet if referential alt.country gem.
Certainly when the saxophone flitters in early on you suspect a Morrison connection, but it dissipates and throughout these earnest, heartfelt spiritual journeys it's hard to hear him go beyond some fairly obvious tropes: the women's choral parts akin to Cohen, that lightweight Van sax, the downbeat Dylanesque delivery on Hail Mary, Band-like organ, piano ballads like Seven Devils to reenforce that this is a Serious Project by a Serious Artist, slow horns . . .
Certainly this lifts itself out of torpor for the glam rock OMG Rock'n'Roll but it offers considerably less uplift than the secular joys of T.Rex, and gets interrupted by a self-conscious choral part which takes itself far too seriously.
And lines like “I came for your love but I stayed for your anger” on Piss River sounds like Cohen being misappropriated into a song which tries for the mythic (the castle, the moat) but falls far short.
Morby holds a prism up to matters of belief from the OMG shorthand of the 21stcentury to finding God in love and Nature. And he has quite a roll-call of friends and fellow travellers on this path (Robin Pecknold, Elvis Perkins among them).
But while there's no doubt he's thought about this God thing, far too often this falls for familiar musical paths (sometimes a couple shoved into a single song) and some pretty ordinary lyrics. There's none of Dylan's gospel-inspired righteous fire, Cohen's emotional intellectualism, Morrison's sometimes pantheistic approach . . .
Singing something slowly doesn't necessarily mean it is any more weighty.
Seems the Devil still has the best tunes.