By Craig Howieson
Through a candid examination of time’s permanence, Kevin Morby reminds us why he is a master of soul searching Americana
The hour glass is a cruel device. Not only does it present a physical representation of precious time slipping away, it has the audacity to suggest that, with a mere twist of the wrist, the time you have just seen disappear can be recaptured and repurposed for other means. When, in fact, the sand it contains should spill indiscriminately onto the floor to be swept up or blown away – to become a dusty memory with its purpose in tatters.
Kevin Morby’s latest record – Sundownder – has its own complex relationship with time. The songs themselves date back to Winter 2017 – around the time Morby moved back home to Kansas. He began demoing ideas on an old four-track machine in his shed that became a makeshift studio. Threaded throughout, there is a roaming question of the nature of time where he examines the cruelty of so little being given to those whose lives are cut short (Campfire/Jamie), or being seemingly trapped in an expanse, where the option for many is to wait out the clock (Provisions). Sundowner soon shows itself to be aware that a loss of time is a loss of life.
The majority of tracks on Sundowner open, or largely revolve, around just Morby’s voice and guitar. But, within that space, he captures the ranging expanse of middle America; its isolation and anonymity, while providing a distinct character to the landscapes his road worn Americana has long evoked. As he sings on the albums closer, ‘grab provisions there’s nothing for a hundred miles / and cast your vision on a memory for a while,’ summing up an all too familiar loneliness, synonymous with too much space and time to think. Morby doesn’t just circle the hive with other songwriters indebted to the great American songwriters, he makes the honey.
On Jamie, his achingly beautiful tribute to his late friend who passed away at just 25, Morby never falls into maudlin tropes – instead melding directly heartfelt and whimsically surreal lyrics to create a track that serves as a celebration of life. Wander, with its wheezing harmonica and busted guitar solo, is perfect in its simplicity, as the heart beat of bass drum stomps all over its second half.
As always with Morby, it is often within his more sprawling moments that added intrigue lies, and Sundowner is no exception. Whether that be in the exquisite tale of two halves that is Campfire, or on Don’t Underestimate Midwest American Sun, the pace of which matches that of life in many parts of the Midwest – a blissful meditation on not wanting to be overlooked or left behind.
On Sundowner, you can almost hear Morby sweeping up the sand from the floor of his garden shed, and moulding it into fragile castles that stand for a second before crumbling away. There is no fighting time. Morby explains that the word ‘Sundowners’ originated from what he and his partner, Katie Crutchfield, used to call each other in relation to their ‘mutual melancholy that seemed to appear every night around sunset.’ No one is ready for their last spin around the sun, and in that sense we are all Sundowners too. Morby’s hope is found in taking time to take stock, while not allowing it to slow him down.
Smash the hour glass, and make use of time instead of watching it slip away.
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