Album Review: Kevin Morby - Oh My God
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.
Morby’s singing voice is still somewhat limited, but he makes it work with the conviction that he brings to the songs. For Oh My God he has stripped back the volume of his tracks, which puts his vocals more into focus. His croon is still warming to the ear, and the fact that it’s not a spectacular voice just makes the everyman nature of the songs on the album even more pronounced. Besides, when he needs to put more heft into the singing, he’s got a choir to do it for him.
In fact, this is how Oh My God begins, with Morby jetting off “above the weather” in ‘Oh My God’, with his soft implorations segueing into a beautiful choir, twinkling piano and saxophone, truly suggesting that we have left Earth behind – either in a simple flight, or perhaps as a move to the afterlife. Either way, from this perspective Morby observes terrestrial beings – a mixture of autobiographical and fictional – and their daily toils.
He floats like a curious being into the lives of his characters and, along with his sublime instrumentation, brings their quotidian worries to life. In the devilishly alluring ‘No Halo’ we have him examining the loss of innocence; ‘Nothing Sacred / All Things Wild’ seems to observe a couple in regret, yearning to return to their youth; in ‘Seven Devils’ we witness a character so down on their luck they seem to have packed their bags and be heading into the sunset. Each of these subjects is treated with utmost devotion, choirs, saxophone or simply Morby’s compassionate voice raising them to exalted levels – each of them is human, and their imperfections are holy.
Although Morby does not identify with religion, the back half of Oh My God seems to show his acceptance that it can bring good. The songs let more light in, and in it our protagonists seem to find some hope. ‘Congratulations’ is the most upbeat song here, seemingly saluting the listener for having made it through another day of struggle. Morby’s characters seem to be finding a way to pick themselves up and soldier on; ‘I Want To Be Clean’ yearns for forgiveness, knowing there’s a whole lifetime ahead; ‘Sing A Glad Song’ is a reminder to always be aware of the solace in your surroundings; closing track ‘O Behold’ celebrates “the hole in my soul,” accepting that nobody is ideal, and we should accept and revere our shortcomings.
In using religious language, ideas and images in Oh My God, Kevin Morby has made his own version of a holy text. There are stories in here, but they are not to be taken literally; they are meant to be read and understood in however the person experiencing them happens to relate to them. They are universal and they are forgiving, and only a songwriter as soft and deft as Kevin Morby could have pulled it off so charmingly.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 30th April 2019