This is a Photograph by Kevin Morby album review by Greg Walker For Northern Transmissions

Dead Oceans

8.5

Kevin Morby

This is a Photograph

Mortalitity has always played a big role in Kevin Morby’s work, since “The Dead They Don’t Come Back,” off of his critically acclaimed debut solo record, Harlem River. Recently, however, he had a scare with his father, saw an ambulance pull up and take him away to the hospital. So he went searching through photographs of his father when he was younger, and found one that opens his latest record, This Is A Photograph, off of Dead Oceans Records.

“This is a photograph, a window to the past / Of your father on the front lawn, with no shirt on / Ready to take on the world, beneath the West Texas Sun.” For an artist who has been wrapped up in the romance of the big artsy cities of New York and Los Angeles for much of his career, this album finds him all over the American map: Tenessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas. In a song about Jeff Buckley, who died so young by drowning in the Mississippi, he sings, “Number two in England, and they say you’re your daddy’s son / But Jeff if you’re anything like me you only care about America.”

This is quintessentially American music and at the center of the album is the idea of the preciousness and impermanence of life in time, and the “fleeting hopes of the American dreamer.” Even with all of its warts, (“Cause she’s violent and she’s stubborn / and she’s ugly but I love her, goddamn”), he’s enamored with the life he gets to live in America and the people he’s met and been touched by: his father, his mother, Jeff Buckley, Otis Reading, Diane Lane, and the list goes on.

“Now I wait around just like a clown wondering what to do / With a map, wondering which road leads back to you,” he sings on the orchestra-enriched, “Five Easy Pieces.” And the road that leads back to you on this album is a “photograph.” Each song is a snapshot, fully realized with strings, banjo, flute, piano, horns and Morby’s tight-knit band. It’s a far cry from his mostly folk beginnings, how the arrangements are filled with swells and bells and everything pretty and moving.

“I know that I’m not perfect, just like I know that you are wild / I know that though we’re both grown up, I still feel like a child inside.” As a rumination on the past, which is “going out of style,” this record captures time and place in a snapshot: his mortal parents, his flawed country, American music’s ephemeral history. It’s a touching tribute and a seamless concept album, like Morby has executed a number of times before. It establishes him as one of the most prolific and trustworthy voices in the modern music of America.

Purchase This is a Photograph by Kevin Morby HERE