Release Date: Apr 26, 2019
Record label: Dead Oceans
It takes seconds for Kevin Morby to set the mood for Oh My God: piano roll, hushed melody and harmonized chorus, the sum of which induces a spellbound attention for the rest of the album. This is Morby's secular gospel album, a record envisioned and recorded aloft in planes, awake in beds and indefinitely on the road, with Morby, in rapturous disbelief, muttering "Oh my god" at his fortune all the while. Not a single cut on Oh My God feels out of place. Each song is effulgent in its composition and intention, from the hymnal boogie "OMG ….
The Kansas City native has his feet firmly planted in the folk-Americana world, and he imbues it with a sense of acute thoughtfulness and awareness, and a sort of world wanderer's outlook, wrapped in quite gorgeous melodies that flitter between sombre, dusky, serene, bright and buoyant. Coupled with his languid, deadpan, blasé, conversational vocal style - one that's drawn inevitable comparisons to Bob Dylan and Lou Reed - it's a package that's instantly captivating and mesmerising. He might not have the most dynamic voice, but when Morby talks, it lures you in, with all its hypnotic power.
Although he doesn't consider himself necessarily "religious," Kevin Morby has noticed the general devotional theme running through his music. On Morby's latest album, Oh My God, the singer/songwriter further explores this dynamic with 14 new tracks. A fair amount of Oh My God (its mood, even the record's title itself) seems inspired by Morby's 2016 single, the hymn-like "Beautiful Strangers"— a protest song released in the midst of Black Lives Matter fervor.
Kevin Morby has always had a strand of religiosity running through his music; hymnals like 'Amen', pilgrimages like 'I Have Been To The Mountain', hell, even the rock'n'roll tribute album City Music was a devotional. In fact, the link between religion and rock music goes back much further than Morby, but the way in which he has used those ingrained Biblical images has given his songs a universal resonance. For his fifth album Oh My God he has leaned heavily into this trope of his, and while this may have been a risky call for most, it has resulted in the best album of his career so far.
Having started out with seminal noughties American indie groups such as Woods and The Babies, Kevin Morby has really found his voice as a solo artist. Over the course of three seminal albums, the Texan crooner has established himself as a cult icon blending raw songwriting with rich orchestral notes and gospel elements which leave listeners on the point of evangelical ecstasy. 'Oh My God' finds us more wrapped up in spirituality than ever before, Kevin finding creative influence more freely than ever in religion.
The American songwriter questions it all on his divine fifth album, a remarkable achievement that may serve as a companion and guide in tough times I was on my way to a funeral when Kevin Morby's 'Oh My God' truly clicked. Starting out on a five-hour journey to a seaside town, it seemed that now, more than ever, an album about spirituality and the things that make us human would feel so important. From the contemplative ballads, heavenly motifs and soaring choirs, it's an album to feel something to.
While I listened to Oh My God, I kept imagining what Dan Bejar or Bill Callahan or Lucy Dacus would do with the beautiful scope of music on offer. Those songwriters' lyrics would take Kevin Morby's work into a blissfully poetic territory, letting the music and words play off each other in an exquisite feedback loop. But my thought experiment was painful, because Kevin Morby sang —in his palatal Bob Dylan affected voice— lyrics of his own devising.
On the four albums leading up to Oh My God, singer/songwriter Kevin Morby channeled some of rock & roll's greatest heroes, calling on various phases of Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, and others with rootsy tunes that breathed with restless longing. The mystique of the songs was supported by fully fleshed-out arrangements and sharp, guitar-centered production. Fifth album Oh My God is a different beast, relying on loose thematic concepts and conceptual arrangements alike to drive its sprawling 14 tracks.
Across four solo albums (and turns in bands like Woods and the Babies), Kevin Morby has always worn his influences on his sleeve. Or record sleeves if you will: Depending on your Ikea shelf space or online playlists, one might hear throughlines to Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde and Leonard Cohen's New Skin for the Old Ceremony, the rock-as-savior gestures of Spiritualized and Springsteen. Or maybe you hear Lou Reed, Nick Cave, Randy Newman, and the War on Drugs instead.
'Oh My God' is an album of contradictions that sit comfortably with one another. A non-religious gospel record, Kevin Morby takes us on an ambivalent road trip through rock and roll's bible belt. An ode to the genre's finest and to its future. A mythical journey that explores the peripheries of the sonic world of rock and roll just as much as it does the essence of the human experience and its relationship with religion.
I n contrast to the bucolic sounds of Singing Saw (2016), Kevin Morby's 2017 follow-up, City Music, was a love letter to New York City. While the irresistible scuzzy momentum of the Velvets' I'm Waiting for the Man is evoked again on OMG Rock n Roll here, lyrically Morby shifts his focus to more spiritual matters. If not quite a concept album, then there are certainly religious themes running through Oh My God, as Morby muses on the all-pervasive influence of faith.