Every September long weekend for the past 13 years, I’ve gathered up five friends for a four-night camping trip. On last year’s trip, someone brought along an auxiliary cable and one of those industrial-strength job site radios that runs on a cordless drill battery.
One evening after supper, as the wind died down and the crickets came out, we sat around a fire by the riverbank and cracked beers, settling in for an evening of good conversation. I cued up Kevin Morby’s City Music, and it fit perfectly, even though the title would suggest otherwise, what with the rural scenery.
Thinking back on it, maybe it was a timing thing: dusk, late summer. This is an album for exactly that time of day and part of the year. City Music is an album that gently winds by your ears, like the river’s current flowing silently beside us that night around the campfire.
Morby, a former member of the band Woods, has been prolific lately. City Music was released in July, just 15 months after Singing Saw, an album that brought him a wider fan base thanks in part to the Dead Oceans label, but mostly thanks to the excellent songs realized with tasteful instrumentation. In total, he’s put out four solo LPs in three and a half years, which is pretty impressive.
While Morby has his own sound, he’s certainly in the same wheelhouse as Kurt Vile: slacker vibes, reverb vocals, wry lyrics, and noodling, unhurried guitars. The songs that fill City Music are skillful without being fussy. Some build up to a charging conclusion, and some, like “1234” and “Aboard My Train,” start off at tempos that hint at punk roots channeled through folk sensibilities.
With production by Richard Swift, City Music has a rich and ample sparseness. Drums and guitars aren’t layered on top of each other. Instead, they simply coexist, with room to spare.
This is a great album from an up-and-coming indie artist who has proven himself to grow with each release. His next effort could very well bring him mainstream success. For now, I’d settle for an appearance at the 2018 Winnipeg Folk Festival. I’m thinking a set time that coincides with the sunset.