Album Review: Kevin Morby – Oh My God

William Lamb reviews Kevin Morby's latest album and first concept album

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When one listens to Kevin Morby’s fifth solo album, the double LP Oh My God, three times in a row during a six-hour car journey, one’s mind, unsurprisingly, becomes a tad warped. Perhaps this was Kevin’s intent. Certainly, like when you read Hemingway and spend a week spluttering short sentences about the importance of truth, or if you watch Baby Driver and risk all your passengers’ lives on a groovy trip to McDonald’s, you begin to think like Morby after being exposed to his idiosyncratic language for so long. If the album you’re exposed to is Oh My God, then those Morbian thoughts will manifest themselves as meditations on the prevalence of religion in the 21st-century. This is a topic which the album approaches with the calming objectivity of a therapist: all empathy, no judgement.

 Morby passionately runs with his chosen theme, exhausting its connotations and assessing its effect with the considered approach of an academic

Fans of ‘the Morb’ – as no one is calling him – will notice that his signature blues/folk guitar is largely missing from the album. In fact, Oh My God works in perfect unison with his percussion-heavy 2016 single ‘Beautiful Strangers’. Morby goes as far as even reworking that song into The Velvet Underground-inspired, ‘OMG Rock n Roll’. To conjure that manic sound the track is mainly comprised of electric organs and a muffled guitar; it sounds like its being played on the other side of a door in the rain. This serves as one of the albums bursts of energy, which act as sporadic cattle prods to prevent the album as a whole becoming too lethargic and weary. In this way, Morby seems as aware of his audience’s needs as he is of the surprising ubiquity that religion retains in our largely secular societies. Another example of this is ‘Congratulations’, which has the contemporary doo-wop feel of Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’, or more fittingly, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Memories’. Replacing Morby’s guitar this time are trumpets and piano, which the album’s title track exhibits to a luscious extent. In an interview with NPR, Morby cited the Ethiopian nun/jazz-pianist Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guébrou as a direct inspiration – with ‘The Homeless Wanderer’ being especially influential (and highly recommended).

It is a perfectly curated, cohesive project, to which you can groove and furrow your brow to an equal extent

As a concept album, it is sublime. Morby passionately runs with his chosen theme, exhausting its connotations and assessing its effect with the considered approach of an academic. This leads him to have the chorus line of “Oh my God / Mama, I’m angry” in his song ‘Piss River’, since “I came for your love but I stayed for your anger”. This superficial acknowledgement of how OMG, which has been seen as blasphemous, is now impotent in its context, runs parallel to songs such as ‘Nothing Sacred / All Things Wild’, which meditates on the desecration of our environment. If Morby’s previous record, City Music is a paean to a modern New York City, then his track ‘Ballad of Faye’, with its low-hovering brass rasp, staccato guitar and percussive piano, acts as a tribute to a New York of the past – or perhaps one that has never existed. It imbues itself with contemporary and retrospective jazz sounds that create an atemporal space. One could imagine that this sonic landscape would perfectly accompany the devastated, bucolic world of ‘Nothing Sacred / All Things Wild’.

We are fortunate to have someone like Kevin Morby working today. Given that his discography is so diverse, the only thing one can expect from a song of his is that it will be considered and whole. As he has proven from this album alone, he fails to be succinctly categorised. What’s more, he is not an artist who claims to have answers. He seems entirely comfortable simply to allow us all to mull over heady topics in communion. Whereas many would become perhaps overindulgent in their concept albums, Morby shows restraint. It is a perfectly curated, cohesive project, to which you can groove and furrow your brow to an equal extent.

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