According to writer Eudora Welty “A good snapshot keeps a moment that s gone from running away”. Kevin Morby couldn’t agree more, so he wrote an whole album about it.
Busy bee Kevin Morby has been releasing records every other year and touring around the world for quite a while now. As an established figure in today’s indie rock scene we had our most pleasant affair with him in 2017 when he released City Music. In the years that followed Morby’s next albums did live up to standards but for us never took root. City Music therefore seemed like a one-off affair and there’s nothing wrong with that. A week ago this however changed for the better. This Is A Photograph comes forth from Morby’s (34) own fear of death and more directly his father’s seizure. A box of old family photos he viewed with his mother on the night of the hospitalisation made Morby realise that is short and vulnerable. This led to a variety of intense hymns about life and death that are brought together on this seventh studio album full of melancholy and melody.
Morby reworked the aforementioned health scare into his lead single. While the song sounds like a cheerful warm-up for the rest of the album the lyrical undertone is quite heavy. Photographs are windows to the past and within these windows fond childhood memories arise. The catch however is that Morby takes these memories a step further and projects them on his current life and even pre-sorts on his own death someday. The upbeat feel of the lead single is left for the emotional, yet musically fully produced, A Random Act Of Kindness. Here he uses his familiar repetitive singing to accept that life befalls you. Because Photograph was written in Memphis, home of soul, gospel, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll, Morby’s further inward dwellings are diversely supported on the album. On Bittersweet, TN we are treated to a simple structured banjo based duet with Erin Rae while the next song, Disappearing, is built around a slacker guitar, smart wordplay and a gospel choir.
Kevin Morby is known to regularly pay tribute to heroes of the past. With 1234 on City Music he tapped in on the legacy of The Ramones. On Photograph he brings an ode to the late James Lee Lindsey Jr., better known as the Memphis-based garage rocker Jay Reatard. On Rock Bottom the same frayed atmosphere is recreated. The combination of fuzzy guitar riffs, a catchy solo, “bop-bop” chanting, a cowbell and some maniacal laughter make Rock Bottom the most fresh listen of Photograph. During the final third the album becomes more coherent. The gentle strings and careful piano play on Five Easy Plays and Stop Before I Cry are subtle preludes to Photograph’s closing songs. After the melancholic ballad It’s Over the album closes with Goodbye to Goodtimes. With minimalist musical backing Morby concludes that viewing a photograph, or a window to the past, is trying to hold onto something that eventually will always slip through your hands. This unfulfilling observation does cause Morby to come to terms with himself and he ultimately sings: “When I was a little boy, I wanted to live and breathe inside a song. Well, how about this one?”
Photograph’s main weak point could lie in the fact that musical differences between songs are significant. On the other hand you could also say that we are offered snapshots of what the city of Memphis musically is all about. Be that as it may, in essence Morby’s signature singing style and clever song writing bring in common thread. This Is A Photograph is certainly one of the best Kevin Morby albums to date. With ‘one of the best’ you have to keep in mind that Morby has never released mediocre work or work that is even worse. At the moment it’s hard to tell how good it really is because Kevin Morby still has a lot of music in him. Let’s just say it wouldn’t surprise us that this is the kind of album you could play to death.
Label: Dead Oceans, 2022
Buy it here: https://kevinmorby.deadoc.co/this-is-a-photograph
- Intro (0:32)
- This Is a Photograph (3:30)
- A Random Act of Kindness (4:14)
- Bittersweet, TN (4:13)
- Disappearing (3:27)
- A Coat of Butterflies (6:40)
- Rock Bottom (2:44)
- Forever Inside a Picture (0:14)
- Five Easy Pieces (4:11)
- Stop Before I Cry (4:58)
- It’s Over (5:21)
- Goodbye to Good Times (5:14)
- Kevin Morby – guitar, vocals, piano
- Sam Cohen – bass, guitar, piano, organ, tambourine
- Nick Kinsey – drums
- Josh Jaeger – percussion, drums
- Jared Samuel – organ, piano
- Cochemea Gastelum – saxophone, flute
- Annie Beedy – spoken word
- Oliver Hill – violin
- Meg Hill – violin
Review by Wander Meulemans // 230522