Kevin Morby - Sundowner Music Album Reviews

Kevin Morby - Sundowner Music Album Reviews
An indie folk record with tinges of country rock, the songwriter’s latest album pays tribute to his Kansas City home with a vision of the Midwest that feels mythical and enormous.

Kevin Morby writes love songs about places. On City Music and Singing Saw, it was California. On Harlem River, it was New York City. On his latest record, Sundowner, it’s Kansas, with its endless stretches of highway and shocking pink sunsets. Morby grew up in Kansas City, and recently returned there after a multi-year stint on the West Coast. Sundowner is his homecoming, an indie folk record with tinges of country rock that feels like looking at an old postcard. At times, it’s so dedicated to late-’60s pastiche that it becomes too precious, like little more than a study of influences. Mostly, though, it is a perfect afternoon under a big blue sky, a vision of the Midwest that feels mythical and enormous.
Sundowner corrects the course after 2019’s Oh My God, which seesawed from huge, pinwheeling Sticky Fingers arrangements to half-baked Transformer karaoke. Morby sounded lost, unsure of what kind of music he wanted to make. Sundowner is sharper, more in sync with his previous records. It’s certainly referential, but it’s hardly completely retro. On opener “Valley,” an estuary of Mellotron pours into a crystal sea of guitar. Morby sings of the stars above him, and the valley beneath. His voice sounds weary and reedy as ever, and then it cuts out, allowing a guitar to split the night sky in two. “Campfire,” with hushed vocals from Katie Crutchfield and field recordings from an actual campfire, feels like a constellation of three songs wrapped up in one. The Mellotron takes the lead for the ending, the album’s prettiest, quivering as the song shifts into a waltz that feels like crossing dewy grass with a blanket draped over your shoulders.

The more uneven moments threaten to undermine Morby’s strongest songs. “Brother, Sister” belongs in a tacky old Western movie, with drums that boom like thunderclaps and a goofy yelp at the end. Much of the song involves Morby singing “bum buh duh bum,” or, “Oh brother/They killed you dead,” like a small-town sheriff with a handlebar mustache. While his penchant for all things retro is usually compelling, here it’s so painstakingly recreated that it’s a little ridiculous. “Velvet Highway,” a fully instrumental track, runs into a similar problem. It starts off with languid, dreamy keys, then disintegrates into a weird circle of handclaps and what sounds like someone jabbing the highest notes on an old piano. This is where Morby runs into trouble: by leaning too heavily on tropes from the past, he misses the opportunity to bricolage with the present.

He’s at his best when he writes the character studies that have become almost a signature of his career. Often they are called by their first names: On Sundowner, we meet Jamie, who died when he was 25; Desi, who became a mermaid; and Jessi, the one with the beautiful voice. Morby loves them all; you can see them flash in front of your eyes like old Super 8 footage. The record’s most vivid and potent moment comes on the melodramatic, seven-minute-long “A Night at the Little Los Angeles.” Morby imagines a girl smoking cigarettes on Mulholland, beaches of sugar, the soft sound of people having sex in the next room. He notices things that are hard to catch: a tightness in his chest; background conversations with a hotel clerk; the infinite stretch of Kansas. His observations require perception—perhaps Morby’s greatest skill as a musician. Plenty of what he sees is mundane, but it’s Morby’s gift that the quotidian never feels boring.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Kevin Morby - Sundowner Music Album Reviews Kevin Morby - Sundowner Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Monday, October 26, 2020 Rating: 5

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