Kevin Morby is a globetrotting Dylanesque folk singer from Kansas City who describes himself as “a spiritual being with a secular attitude” and, despite being a non-believer, his fifth album is a concept album in which all the songs are written from a religious perspective.
“It’s not a born-again thing”, Morby is at pains to point out adding “It’s not about an actual god but a perceived one, and it’s an outsider’s view of the human experience in terms of religion”.
Nothing Sacred/All Things Wild is a kind of mission statement with the exhortation “may this mess be blessed” echoing the brasher sentiments of Bon Jovi’s ‘God Bless This Mess’.
Hail Mary is the album’s true centrepiece, a song which was apparently edited down from a sprawling 15 minutes into a more concise five minutes and three verses.
In songs like I Want To Be Clean or Piss River Morby’s distrustful stance towards organised religion is evident; “I tried to pray but didn’t know what to say” he sings/speaks on the latter. Similarly, on OMG Rock’n’Roll a stomping tune breaks up mid song into a serene chorus as though the role of more orthodox believers is merely to be party poopers.
He doesn’t get as far as heaven but many tunes refer to air travel. Storm (Beneath The Weather) is a 90-second ambient instrumental piece mimicking what it feels like under the clouds while the closing tune, O Behold, is the world as seen “above the weather” from the seat of a plane. Being at the mercy of the elements whilst having to trust in the mechanics of being airborne is the nearest he gets to a conventional numinous experience. This is not so much a display of faith in a spirit in the sky , more a nod towards a deity in the interest of self-preservation just in case there is, after all, a God even though all evidence suggests the contrary.
Musically, saxophone refrains are handled throughout by Cochemea Gastelum, some occasional organ parts are provided by producer Sam Cohen and a seven-member choir is on hand to provide some gospel dynamics. In its physical form, the 14 tracks are released on four sides of vinyl although the 49 minute streaming-time would easily fit onto a single CD.
The main problem with this record is that it often feels more like an exercise in style than a personal expression of feelings. Moreover, Morby has such a droll, monotonic delivery that even when affecting a serious manner he often gives the impression he is enjoying a private joke at the listener’s expense.