Kevin Morby was once in The Babies but that was a long time ago. He's an artist in his own right and his new album, City Music, out Friday on Dead Oceans, is such a stunning release that it seems silly to even highlight his previous gigs. This is a pretty damn special record on its own unique terms, is what I'm trying to say.
City Music opens with the Leonard Cohen-ish "Come To Me Now", a near-note perfect recreation of the best sort of material from the late master, while "Crybaby" shifts gears a bit, angling into mid-period Nick Cave territory in its languid, woozy appeal. The song here that's gonna get the critics salivating -- (and the one which I'm sure will end up in a car commercial eventually) -- is "1234", a homage simultaneously to The Ramones and Jim Carroll. This is, clearly, City Music, as the title goes, and as Kevin name-checks The Ramones -- "Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy" -- the music surges and swells in a pretty neat approximation of "People Who Died", the most famous Carroll number. On paper, it sounds a dreadful thing but it is, on record, a whole lot of heartfelt fun.
Elsewhere, the lovely "Aboard My Train" nods in the direction of both Cohen (again), but also late-period Lou Reed, and even Van Morrison, while the title cut spools out with a kind of lazy grace, hipster impressions of the genuinely dangerous stuff from the No NYC era. Still, for my cynicism there in saying that, I did love this record. Stuff like "Tin Can" is more traditionally beholden to both Bob Dylan and Tim Buckley than to anything else but it's a fine, catchy bit of business and Morby has sort of mastered this material in such as a way that the derivative bits -- and there are loads here, 'natch -- don't annoy too much. In fact, having a healthy working knowledge of the back-catalogs of John Cale, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Television, and Dylan might be a good thing when approaching City Music. I certainly appreciated the record more as tunes like "Night Time" and "Pearly Gates" seemed to owe so much to not only those NYC legends but others elsewhere like Tindersticks, The Saints, and The Triffids. And while it sounds as if City Music isn't wholly original, I'd still give Kevin Morby tremendous credit here as I think this record was done with a whole lot of affection for the work of the influences who inspired these (largely) very melodic and affecting tunes.
[Photo: Adarsha Benjamin]