Album Review: “Singing Saw” by Kevin Morby

Kevin Morby hadn’t spent more than a few moments with a piano in his lifetime until he stumbled upon an old upright in his new home in Mount Washington in LA. With the piano, was some simple sheet music and a book of fundamental piano chords, enough to instill in Morby a new love for piano and the spark that became his newest record, Singing Saw. Within his neighborhood in LA, a dichotomy arose, a striking bifurcation between the expansive city skyline and the complex beauty of the natural world surrounding him. This, too kindled what became Morby’s stunning lyricism and storytelling material, the duality simultaneously reflected in the blooming instrumentals on the album.

Singing Saw is the journey of a man through life, from wakefulness to dreaming, joy to sorrow, acceptance, relief and surrender. The record is stitched together with mentions of the singing saw, both its power as an instrument and a tool and mentions of tears, always streaming, gathering in his eyes. The record opens with “Cut Me Down”, the first sound you hear, a singing saw. It is the perfect introduction to the album. It displays his simple lyricism that is deeper than each word’s surface value:

Take me as I am, a man.

And they’re going to do,

what they came here to do.

I can see it in their eyes,

They’re going to cut me down.

The following track is a powerful ballad with a commanding bass line, decorated with prevailing vocals and of course, the piano. Like many of the tracks on the record “I Have Been to the Mountain” has a blossoming quality. Morby’s songs grow, expand and became something more beautiful and sprawling than what they were at the start. A unique music video accompanies this song. According to Morby, “‘I Have Been To The Mountain‘ is a song for those struck down by the hands of evil – senseless killings which have always overwhelmed our planet, but especially recently,” says Morby. “It’s dedicated to and inspired by the death of Eric Garner.” It stars dancer, Nathan Mitchell.

Besides “I Have Been to the Mountain”, “Dorothy” is the most up tempo piece on the album. Fuzzy guitars surprise you from the get go and hold steady through the track, while Morby plays tricks with the song, it slows to a crawl, piano holding it together and all of a sudden, it’s back at full speed:

Tears will gather in my eye.

Hold my hand, ah babe you know I’ll cry.

The title track, “Singing Saw”, is the first time Morby literally describes the duality of the singing saw. The track is a dream, the singing saw cutting down willows, destroying what’s in its path and chasing after him. The song lingers on and on for 7 minutes, like those moments between sleep and wakefulness where voices echo in your mind, leaving you unsure of what is real and imagined. The singing saw prominent in the track, eerie and ominous.

One thing that makes Morby unique is his singing quality, it’s somewhere between speaking and singing, giving his music a gentler feeling. My favorite display of this on the album is “Drunk and On a Star.” His voice rises and falls as though he’s telling a story but he simultaneously is singing, changing notes.

After “Dorothy”, the latter half of the album is rich, slow and gorgeous, ending with the celebratory track, “Water.” It builds, flourishes and grows while Morby begs to be put out like a fire:

If you find water,

Please call my name.

Put me out like a fire,

Cover me in rain.

The Singing Saw is a special album and is constructed in a way in which the listener is brought full circle from the start of the album to its end. The record is out now on Dead Oceans and is available on iTunes among other music-purchasing platforms.

Check Kevin Morby’s website for his fall European tour dates.

 

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