From his embryonic projects such as Woods and The Babies to cementing himself as a premier solo act, Kevin Morby has been a recognizable name around the indie music circuit for some time now. The humility of his masterful songwriting as he recounts stories between dexterous cries from his Fender Coronado continues on Morby's latest two singles — a sign that this vulnerability is here to stay.
In the initial vinyl copies issued for Oh My God (2019), Morby's most far-reaching and distinctive album to date, two additional singles titled "Gift Horse" and "I Was On Time," were included in 7" vinyl package. Now coming up on a year since that release, the two singles have now been made available for digital download on streaming platforms.
As Morby mentions, these new singles act as b-side, misfits to the masterpiece that is Oh My God: "Each [song] is a puzzle piece to my soul and though they didn’t fit thematically with the rest of Oh My God, I’m glad that they are now finding their way into the digital stratosphere for anyone and everyone who cares to listen to do so."
Originally, Morby says he was trying to lay down "O Behold," the final track on Oh My God but stumbled upon a chord progression and melody which he and producer Sam Cohen really vibed with which ended up forming "Gift Horse." Within an hour or so, they had the backbone of the track set down and recorded it his band a few weeks later.
Pounding drums and a thumping bass line counts listeners into "Gift Horse" beginning with a bang and shriek from the organ keys impossible to miss. This organ comes to a head by a playful tickling of the high keys continuing to weave in and throughout the track eventually into a solo of sorts.
Similar to many of Morby's anthems, his vocals and lyricism are at the forefront which should be considered main highlights of the song. As he sings "time ran away with everyone // it's a crime to be so young and dumb // no one made you act so tough and rough // but still those shaking hands," we can relate to these themes of life's ticking clock and the collective naivety of one's youth.
Something else we have become accustomed to in the Texas-born musician's discography: familiar themes. Throughout Morby's music, we are visited by a cast of characters that appear and remain, others that leave then reappear and some that disappear completely into obscurity. From Morby's inaugural LP Harlem River (2013) to the release of these singles, we grow up with him getting to know the characters of his life embodying names but manifested as emotions, feelings, and nostalgia.
This cinematic storytelling continues on "Gift Horse" as he sings "Iggy's in the back he's getting stoned" and later on "Katie's in the car she's on her phone," referring to Morby's partner Katie Crutchfield who forms part of fellow indie powerhouse, Waxahatchee.
As Morby sticks to these homogenous themes, "I Was On Time" is much of the same in a slightly different light. We saw the Kansas City-based songwriter borrow plentiful lyrics and ideas from his 2016 breakout song, "Beautiful Strangers" to arrange in Oh My God and that remains a constant to begin this track with a seemingly identical opening rhythmic guitar riff as that of "Beautiful Strangers."
As the brushes pitter-patter on drums, Morby sings this song as an ode to the performer: "To being late. To arriving on time. To seeing the beautiful people who have paid to see you play music night after night all across the world. To throwing them roses. To the gift of live performance and the spirit of music."
"I Was On Time" features some sparkling keys sprinkled throughout as Morby does an excellent job of inserting his vocal lines in the appropriate spots that may seem unorthodox to others — which shouldn't be surprising given his cited influences include Lou Reed and the Grateful Dead (shown by a "Box of Rain" tattoo on his right arm).
We hear this aforementioned familiarity as Morby sings "the hours devour us" just as he does in "Piss River," one of Oh My God's finest tracks. As we progress through "I Was On Time," we learn about a dream of Morby arriving at one of his shows and forgetting all the words, eventually winding up naked on stage — a lively display of insecurities. Morby's agenda appears to be squashing all insecurities that plague performers in releasing the most genuine material and emotions that they require to submerge themselves in their projects.
As we look to Morby's album covers through the years, this progression is discernable going from Harlem River (2013) where his face is barely visible, to the zoomed out shot of himself on the cover of Singing Saw (2016), to City Music (2017), where we are teased with a bit more revealing album cover yet he still looks on into a mirror. This culmination came to fruition on Oh My God where Morby is shirtless and looking directly into the camera.
As we look forward to the next chapter of Morby's longwinded tale of friendships lost and gained, check out his Instagram account below where he and Crutchfield have been playing several live performances in their self-isolation.