SINGING SAW, Kevin Morby's third album, is anchored to his current home in Los Angeles in the same way his solo debut, 2013's Harlem River, was anchored to his old one in New York City. Or so his press materials would have you believe. Writing a press bio about the making of an album is often an exercise in dressing up an overly familiar story in new fur. In all cases: Songs were written, songs were edited and rehearsed, songs were committed for eternity to tape (or a digital facsimile thereof).
There's a workmanlike consistency to Morby's music that makes any new spin on his work particularly tricky. From the start, he'd struck upon an arresting style all his own, despite its quite blatant echoes of antecedents like Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and Leonard Cohen—purveyors of sunglassed, nicotine-stained cool who inflicted their casual mutations upon the American folk song. What Singing Saw indicates is Morby's growth into a slightly lighter, more companionable phase of his sound. The album was produced by Yellowbirds' Sam Cohen and features piano playing by Marco Benevento. It suggests that Morby is allowing his sound to meld with the ideas of others—a concession he might not have been able to make on his earlier solo work, so soon after departing Woods and the Babies, the New York-based bands he'd collaborated with. To come back to the idea of the influence of place, the new album's songs point to soft hills and distant winking lights, rather than concrete sidewalks and walls of empty windows that stretch high above.
Perhaps the best prose illustration of Morby's music, though, comes from Morby himself. He wrote an essay called "Married to Music" for the Line of Best Fit that's essentially his autobiography framed by his relationship to music. While the story itself isn't all that unusual, the way Morby tells it is. As with his songwriting, the piece contains a frankness and intimacy in its crisp, clear recounting, with an emotional charge running through each sentence. And in the case of Singing Saw's commonplace but satisfying sound, that zap, that hum, that livewire current gives new life to old, beloved musical ideas. You might feel like you've heard Morby's songs before, years ago, but you're bound to keep listening to them, years from now.