Kevin Morby, much like his primary influence Bob Dylan, is as good at writing barnstorming rockers as he is at writing plaintive, melancholic missives to the ether. While the highlights in both of their respective catalogues tend to be the more riotous numbers, many of the fan-favourite selections come from their quieter moments.
Sundowner, Morby’s new album, provides some of the strongest ‘quiet ones’ of his career. It also arrives just over a year after his last – the superb, haunting Oh My God – and in many ways it comes across as a reflective, subtle companion piece. Where Oh My God was spare, and rife with emotion, Sundowner uses its sparse instrumentation for much warmer, more joyful pleasures.
When asked about the genesis of the album, Morby said that “the songs came quickly and effortlessly as I did my best not to resist or refine the songs, but instead let them take shape all on their own. I was mesmerised by the magic of the four-track not only as a recording device, but also an instrument, and considered it my songwriting partner throughout the whole process.”
That might explain why there are so many highlights throughout the album. Morby’s keen ear and golden pen are demonstrated ably and fruitfully throughout. A Night At The Little Los Angeles, for one, is an absolute triumph – and quintessential Morby. It’s light, thoughtful and clear, with only a marimba breaking up the reverie. Don’t Underestimate Midwest American Sun is another standout – and it stands as testament to Morby’s abilities as a sonic set-dresser. His voice, hushed and direct, is complemented by delicate piano, delicate guitar and even a delicate drum machine.
The opening triptych of Valley, Brother, Sister and Sundowner is essentially a highlight reel in miniature, with each of the tracks emphasising the restraint and power that Morby has poured into the album. Jamie, which is a tribute to a dearly departed friend, is both lovely and sincere in its emotional, evocative wistfulness. Wander and Campfire are two of the more upbeat tracks on the album, and each of them contains the kind of guitar flashes you’d expect from one of the more rootsy Neil Young albums. The former is an exercise in country rock minimalism, while the latter is more of a Dylanesque.
This is never going to replace your favourite Kevin Morby album, and it’s unlikely that it will make him new fans, but it feels like the kind of private delight that great artists bestow on their fans for their loyalty from time to time. Sundowner is Morby’s Harvest Moon, his Nebraska, his Hejira – a statement of intent made in the quietest way possible.