Man is not an island. Although in the case of shy Irish, troubadour, James Vincent McMorrow it looks like he actually could be. His debut LP, Early In The Morning was a highly personal process, recorded in an isolated house by the sea for six months. Here McMorrow opted to be left alone, playing, recording and flying solo.
The record was released in his homeland back in 2010 and over time has gained plenty of traction. Better late then never, it’s now our turn for a release and already this variety of homespun goodness is finding itself an – ahem – home. According to the man himself, it came about through a desire to: “Create something singular, [to] take the simplest of chords, wrap them in washes of melody, so lines come in, they drop out, everything ebbs and flows as songs move towards their inevitable end”.
Early In The Morning draws together 13 atmospheric folk, pop and even soul-tinged tracks with lots of harmonies for a single bloke and where the instruments of choice are the acoustic guitar, banjo and mandolin. Thinking about all of this together makes it easy to see where the comparisons to Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens and Mumford & Sons come from. Heck, even the influences of Neil Young and Bob Dylan can be heard on this reflective and sincere confessional.
“If I Had A Boat” is an excellent choice of opener with McMorrow in his own Boy & Bear-esque, five-part harmony. He is also accompanied by eerie slide guitars and enchanting organ, such that the listener is set up for a soothing mix of dense and literate lyrics plus melody. The words are about change and transition but they also boast a mature world-weariness. Consider the line: “Once I had a dream, it died long before”.
The following “Hear The Noise That Moves So Soft & Low” is a natural beauty, pure and simple while “Sparrow & The Wolf” takes things up a notch. Despite singing about the difficulties he has with finding joy in the world, musically we get a cheery banjo romp, a ditty that also features light harmonies. This and the soaring, “We Don’t Eat” (complete with hints of the song “Love Is In The Air”) will lull you into “Breaking Hearts” where an assertive McMorrow declares: “You can stop your crying, I’m never coming back”.
The second half of this release sees the mood change to a more melancholic one while the deep and literate stories and characters are still found front row centre. This is no doubt a product of McMorrow’s love of American authors like Roald Dahl, F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinberg because the Irishman likes to note that they often deal with the darker and less spoken about aspects of life like loneliness and disillusionment. It’s not all wallowing in sadness though, because “This Old Dark Machine” has some catchy, swirling “Oohs” that are equally ghostly and angelic while “Higher Love” is a Steve Winwood cover that is stripped back and embraces the moment.
James Vincent McMorrow has proven to us that he can wear his heart on his sleeve and pack his influences in his guitar case alongside the many stories he has to tell. Early In The Morning plays out with a muted charm and a familiar comfort thanks to its simple, laid-back feel that is like a log cabin in the woods or a solitary cottage by the sea. Here McMorrow sounds like he’s uncovered a bunch of old love letters and diaries in the attic and has decided to harmonise along with his velvet croon, taking in the moment to let it linger in the air, bounce off the walls and the warm fire that glows before him.
Ultimately, Early In The Morning is heart wrenching and stunning even though it most probably could have been bettered by some editing or additional input from the outside world. Nevertheless, it shows that history has a way of repeating itself and that even when simple melodies are recurrent, they can produce something reflective, gentle and mellow, a compelling antidote to the hurly burly of modern life.
Originally published on 11 April 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/32176/James-Vincent-McMorrow–Early-In-The-Morning
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