‘Don’t let the sun go down on me’

Kevin Morby’s new album, “Sundowner,” cover art. Johnny Eastlund/Dead Oceans

Kevin Morby paints a picture of midwestern days in his latest indie folk album

Kevin Morby takes another step forward with his latest album “Sundowner” from label Dead Oceans, composed as a collection of stories. Released Oct. 15, many of the songs were written during his move to the midwest. Morby’s stands out from earlier releases as he returned to Kansas to write the album and the homecoming influence can be heard sonically all over the album. 

“Sundowner’s” songs come and go like strangers passing through and leaving bits and pieces of things on the table. A droning pump organ and Mellotron plays the majority of the songs acting like a backbone for the body of work. For Morby, the songs ride along an endless highway of bright skies and days of sparkly mundanity. 

Coming about a year after his 2019 release “Oh My God,” his new album feels like a comedown.“Oh My God” exploded with emotions accented by full arrangements of sound, the newest record feels like sitting in a rocking chair watching days go by or like sand slipping between fingers.

Melancholy, stripped down songs of love, loss and discussion of the mundane moments of life otherwise cast away make up this new album. 

The first track “Valley” ensures a warm welcome to his folky narratives with one of the more built-up tracks of the album. The clean electric guitar layers itself over the organ sounds and acoustic guitar’s rhythm, which comes together to sound like a drive home at sunset. That homesick feeling stays with the listener for the rest of the album.

The next song, “Brother, Sister,” instantly loses that appeal. It feels artificial, like a soundtrack from a cheesy cowboy flick that strays away from the genuine warmth felt during most of the album. “Brother, Sister” is a long way from the rest of the album’s reflective, raw sound.

Coming back to reel listeners in, the third and title track “Sundowner” is a crooning portrait of Morby’s midwest. Morby even evokes similar emotions to those expressed on the Young track “On the Beach,” where Morby states that he likes a crowd, but doesn’t know to keep one surrounding him. Instantly, the mind runs back to Young’s signature voice singing, “I need a crowd of people, but I can’t face them day to day.”

Morby loves to tell listeners about places and how he has been living in each one. Introspective lyrics on the track “Sundowner” and the whirring sounds of the Mellotron laced through the guitars chords show a wandering man who is stuck meandering across towns, finding the same things every place he goes to and always trying to keep the sun shining over him.

The abstraction of feelings and regrets presented in songs like “A Night at The Little Los Angeles” coupled up with the dreamy chorus of the track. Sugar sand beaches and clean tremolo guitar behind Morby’s lyrics about bad dreams and character stories encapsulate his memories of living in Los Angeles.

One of Morby’s greatest skills as a songwriter is his ability to personify places, emotions and thoughts. With “Sundowner” listeners are led by the hand to a place where the sun shines differently on the terrain and cars whiz past the unpronounced beauty of the midwest on stretching highways. 

Morby quietly wrestles with feelings of hope and struggles with the loss of friends and self on the record. Delicate songwriting and compel listeners to run to the midwest to find whatever they may be searching for.

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