Many a bad thing has happened in Memphis, and singer-songwriter-musician Kevin Morby, 34, pays homage not just to grief and fleeting youth but to his own family's close calls. Morby composed and recorded his newest album, "This Is a Photograph," in Memphis, and his arrangements are solid.
Morby, lauded by Rolling Stone, NPR Music and The New York Times, among many others, comes to the Buskirk-Chumley Theater Oct. 12.
He has stepped away from the mainstream with his alternative indie folk style, where repetition of both phrases and riffs are enough to put some listeners into a trance, a nice mellow one. Morby tends to repeat phrases, which will annoy some but appeal to others, as the repetition lends a lulling tone to certain songs.
His song "This Is a Photograph," which is also the title of his newest album reiterates: "This is what I'll miss about being alive" — all the while increasing in volume till the end. A record's energy should rise to a climax, and that's partly the producer's job. This song does.
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In Morby's "Harlem River," however, the repetition serves a different purpose, and we feel as though we can hear New York's 8-mile tidal strait churn and undulate:
And Harlem River swallow me / Put your hands around my neck / And Harlem River I can't breathe / They've got the lights down now
The song ends with repetitions of "I ride for you," and we sense that Morby, as the song states, really has, in this number, lost his faith in the world.
I don't know / I don't know / Just where I'm going / 'Cause I've never been
Music doesn't need words to be music, but words need music to be a song. Morby plays guitar and sings, his oft-repeated sets of lyrics reflecting his pensiveness. They form his internal monolog about grief and uncertainty. We've been there; Morby makes us remember.
Death can come suddenly, like some of his songs' endings. One reason for his immediate finales stem from a frightening incident Morby witnessed. Not only was his father sick, but Morby, too, had his own scare. Things like that stay with a songwriter, and his nod to mortality and memories is obvious.
Kat Bouza for Rolling Stone writes, "The album hits its strongest points when Morby opens himself up to reckless abandon, stripping himself of the introspective pretenses of soul-searching and instead embracing the unpredictable chaos of life and all its imperfection."
Morby's album "This Is a Photograph," released in May, is his seventh. He is joined by a regiment of talent: drummer Nick Kinsey and Sam Cohen, as well as regulars Alecia Chakour (vocals, tambourine), Cochemea Gastelum (saxophone), Jared Samuel (organ), and Eric Johnson (banjo). Additional beauty comes from drummer Makaya McCraven, vocalist Cassandra Jenkins, percussionist Josh Jaeger, harpist Brandee Younger, and Tim Heidecker and Alia Shawkat singing in “Rock Bottom.”
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A song maps a journey, which grows more interesting as we take it, with the singer. Morby's lyrics, with their near-rhymes and unfinished narratives, delineate his recurring theme concerning life's chanciness. One thing seems clear: Morby's future-questioning.
In "Stop before I Cry," the music sways and thumps, offering a vibrant rhythm for lyrics that reflect Morby's love for his partner, Katie Crutchfield. It is here that he veers most from introspection and declares his affection for another.
And you know they'll feed us fruit / Right before they suck our blood / Yeah, they'll fill us up with sugar / While they drag us through the mud ...
'Cause, Katie, when you're dressed up, honey / Oh, it's hard to find the words
In "Beautiful Strangers" he stresses his need to have his work remembered after his death. This, as do other songs, contain gospel-like nuances, and in other places, too, he mentions religion.
And if I die too young for something I ain't done / Carry my name every day / Oh, I'm sorry, oh, I'm sorry / Freddie Gray / But sleep easy like baby Jesus / In a manger / Oh, sleep easy like little Jesus / Beautiful stranger
Morby is past bassist with Woods and a co-founder of the Babies.
The concert unites advocates and people in recovery to focus on the need for community services for those both experiencing and recovering from substance-use disorders.
If you go
WHAT: 9th annual concert for Amethyst House: Kevin Morby
WHEN: 7 p.m. Oct. 12
WHERE: Buskirk-Chumley Theater, 114 E. Kirkwood Ave.
TICKETS: $20-$50, available at https://bit.ly/3E6ll5o
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Kevin Morby brings alt-indie folk to Buskirk-Chumley Theater Oct. 12