After playing bass in the psych-folk group Woods, Kevin Morby struck out on his own in 2013. Where his former band primarily deals in breezy, Summer of Love-style ditties, Morby’s music stems from the singer-songwriter tradition of the early ’70s. (No doubt his Dylan-like croon has something to do with this.) And like his forebears, Morby’s third album Singing Saw is a collection of polished songs — even if much of its latter half blurs together.
Morby tossed out a red herring when he released Singing Saw’s first single, “I Have Been to the Mountain,” in January. Beyond referencing Martin Luther King, Jr., the song addresses Eric Garner’s death and police brutality. And with its gospel singers and molten guitar solo, it’s not only the best song on Singing Saw, but one of 2016’s best indie-rock tracks.
“I Have Been to the Mountain” is Singing Saw’s second track, and Morby wedges it between the understated opener “Cut Me Down” and the title track’s hypnotic, seven-minute blues excursion. But the album’s opening salvo sets a bar the rest of Singing Saw just can’t match. The dullest moments on 2014’s Still Life came on downtempo tunes where Morby’s melodies fell short, and the same is true here. Tracks like “Drunk and On A Star” and “Ferris Wheel” are pleasant filler, but warrant little value outside of the album’s context.
Still, Morby keeps things interesting, whether he’s conjuring the spirit of Robbie Robertson and the Band on the scuzzy “Dorothy” or dabbling with abstract saxophones on “Destroyer” that call to mind Ornette Coleman. Promising moments like these prove the rising Morby’s willingness to experiment. Every Blood on the Tracks needs its Self Portrait, right?