Kevin Morby - Oh My God - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Kevin Morby - Oh My God

by Mark Moody Rating:9 Release Date:2019-04-26
Kevin Morby - Oh My God
Kevin Morby - Oh My God

For a self-described “non religious” type, Kevin Morby’s latest album, Oh My God, unfolds with a precise liturgy normally reserved for high mass.  It’s apparent that Morby and producer Sam Cohen put much thought into what transpires exactly when on the album.  Each song builds with component parts added to the mix with a painterly effect.  Not to mention the fact that in spite of his secular declaration, Morby uses a choir loft full of instrumentation normally reserved for the sacred.  Opening with a deliberately played piano to brass, organs, an angelic choir, and a real live harp, maybe this is Morby’s effort to get closer my God to thee.  More pointedly Morby endeavors to answer why we live, why we die, why evil persists, is there an afterlife?  People spend their lives in pursuit of these answers which Morby distills down to less than an hour’s attempt.

The piano riff that opens lead off and title song ‘Oh My God’ sounds more juke joint profane than sacred, but soon morphs to a Sunday morning spiritual.  In the opening line, Morby begs to be carried home from the heaviness of the world.  A prayer that never goes out of style, but one that most anyone can get behind.  As it gently rolls along, the song becomes colored with ascending choral notes and ultimately a lighter than air sax solo that seems custom made to take you to Morby’s concept of “a kingdom above the weather”.  An idea first explored on Morby’s lovely ‘Beautiful Strangers’ single from a few years back.  (Ironically that song was written in reaction to Paris’ Bataclan nightclub massacre, and here comes ‘Oh My God’ on the heels of the Norte Dame fire).  Clearly, things have been on his mind for a while now, and that song makes a perfectly valid jumping off point, borrowed lyrics and all.

After a contemplative opening, the album shows a flair for the dramatic as it moves into the fast handclaps of ‘No Halo’.  The song describes the carefree world of the very young, but midway through takes on a stately air with drums and flute bringing in a dose of gravity.  Released as the album’s first single, it’s not nearly as effective out of context.  But it serves as entrée into the guts of the album.  From here, the pipe organ hum and congas of ‘Nothing Sacred/All Things Wild’ take things down a darker course.  Morby even apologizes “sorry for poisoning you with my song” as a choir envelops him in the chorus. 

The rollicking ‘OMG Rock N Roll’ turns the title track into a garage rocker visited by Norman Greenbaum’s ‘Spirit In The Sky’.  Here the prayer of “carry me home” is starkly punctuated not by a typical 1, 2, 3, 4, countdown, but rather an escalating body count of “24, 49, 58” from the national stains of Sandy Hook, the Pulse Nightclub, and the Vegas massacre.  It’s not exactly spelled out for you, but it’s a slap in face when the realization comes.  The song’s fury imparts frustration and a shaken fist at a strategy that seems to consist of waiting for the next act to happen.

The more contemplative ‘Seven Devils’ is another track where the instrumentation slowly builds culminating in the first guitar solo at the snap of a finger.  But it’s a ripper of an exclamation mark worth the wait at the hands of dearly departed (from the band only) Meg Duffy.  Though news of their departure was sadly received at the time, it is apparent from the Hand Habits solo album and the lack of guitar on display over Oh My God that it was the right choice for both. 

As solid as the album is to this point, the duo of songs that follow are its ten-minute narrative core.  The first of these, ‘Hail Mary’, may even hold the answer to what Morby seeks, but more on that later.  Its musical approach is full bore Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue crossed with Morby’s most evocative lyrics.  Lines like “Ben got a baby girl, before mama got sick with cancer” are as descriptive as Dylan’s “lost in the rain in Juarez and it’s Easter time too” if not as picturesque.  It’s the toe-tapping centerpiece of the album regardless of content.  Wordier still, Morby gets real on ‘Piss River’ boiling down a friend’s funeral to “we all buy black suits” and looking to family for answers that no one has.  The song’s certain cadence is beautifully interspersed with Mary Lattimore’s harp playing that front runs Morby’s lyrics at every turn.

After a stormy interlude, Morby tries to somehow sum up an equation that is un-summable.  The lilting ‘I Want To Be Clean’ is a piano-fueled song worthy of the Velvets at Lou Reed’s dewiest eyed, observing that “every plant, just wants to dance”.  While the first time I intently listened to ‘Sing A Glad Song’ I was sitting at a window seat behind the wing of a jet taking off from LaGuardia.  As the plane pierced a cloud layer leaving the rain-soaked city behind, Morby sang without irony “perhaps we’ll meet again my friend, above the weather” as certainly as the sun was above those clouds.

The album culminates in the lyrical stunner of ‘O Behold’, where Morby tries to contend with the “horns from my head, wings from my shoulder” with an angelic choral assist.  He describes a litany of holes in our lives, from the metaphoric to the literal.  Morby also confronts the ultimate passing on of parents (“there’s a ship in the mist and it’s getting closer”), while simultaneously letting them know he loves them.  It’s a reflective close to an album seeking answers.   

Another balladeer once sang that “them holes are all that’s real” and he also sang that he was “chained upon the face of time, feeling full of foolish rhyme”.  Maybe the answer lies in not needing to know the answer.  Love your parents and your sister, sing a glad song, err on the side of wings vs horns, and remember that holes are what let the light in.  Or as Morby's father put it, enjoy the ride, life is short.  Sometimes maybe it’s as simple as what races by you barely noticed on ‘Hail Mary’.  Morby matter of factly states, “I’m still here, nursing a beer”.  For all of us contending with the human condition, that’s not a bad end to the day.  If Oh My God doesn’t end up being Morby’s crowning achievement, and it would be for most mortals, it’s still a worthy crown to wear.


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