Release Date: Nov 26, 2013
Record label: Woodsist
Genre(s): Singer/Songwriter, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Jangle Pop
The epigraph embedded in the header of Kevin Morby’s Tumblr reads, “Searching the endless highway for a shoulder to cry on.” Although he’s long been a stablemate of the Woodsist family as the bassist in Woods and in representing one-quarter of The Babies, when left to his own devices Morby comes to embody the transient, melancholic persona his blog would suggest. But that doesn’t mean he’s about to be caught dwelling in the doldrums, either. Instead, with Harlem River, Morby shuffles forthright, his sanguine tone assuredly focused on the cathartic inertia of travel.
Woods bassist and Babies singer Kevin Morby is in a reflective mood on his solo debut, Harlem River. Meandering like the eight-mile-long river of its namesake, the album is a brief journey through the New York that Morby called home for the five years prior to its recording. Now relocated to sunny California, the Kansas City-born Morby made it his first act of business to send a fond farewell to the city that has begun so many careers and inspired so many songs.
One more day in New York and I can’t shake distraction. I’m into wandering these days, or at least since last weekend, hoping to walk off all these thoughts and just look closely and listen and maybe learn to love New York. Last Sunday, I walked three miles through Bushwick at six in the morning to get home, talking about the city almost the whole way.
Considering his career, Kevin Morby’s own shift from buzz band sideplayer to existentially peripatetic frontman is an interesting one. Once upon a time, the Kansas City-bred musician was based in Brooklyn, playing in groups like Woods and the Babies. Now, he lives in Los Angeles and has written Harlem River, a love letter to New York City that transforms its eponymous subject's long stretch of water into a metaphor for a wandering heart.
Kansas City-native Kevin Morby (Woods/The Babies) calls his debut album “an homage to New York City,” where he’s lived for the past five years — and it’s hard not to take that as somewhat of a tongue-in-cheek statement. It’s largely a rather bleak homage, thanks to the soberingly remorseful pieces therein, such as “Sucker in the Void” and “The Dead They Don’t Come Back. ” Then, of course, there’s the more overt reference to the city by way of title-track “Harlem River,” and opener “Miles, Miles, Miles,” on which Morby notes “If they knew how far I traveled in the dark/then I wouldn’t seem so odd/Then they wouldn’t stop to stare.
Though Kevin Morby’s debut solo album Harlem River came out in November, I only first heard it in late January, when I saw Morby open for Cate Le Bon. Even after reading about him (bassist in Brooklyn indie-folk band Woods, half of Cassie Ramone’s post-Vivian Girls project the Babies), I wasn’t ready to be terribly impressed, not so much so that I bought his record. But I was, and I did.