“Speak until the dust settles in the same specific place.” – James Vincent McMorrow
James Vincent McMorrow has a voice that will break your heart. A strange falsetto that will linger in that lofty, unknown register for longer than you’d like. His debut album, Early in the Morning, was a favorite of mine in 2011. It is an album very much rooted in the folk tradition: anthemic choruses, confessional lyrics, and of course that voice. And yet, there is a quality to his music that provides various layers of listening and reveals manifold influences. We Don’t Eat and Down the Burning Ropes find extra strength with the addition of the chorus, and they also use the ostinato note that is most common in Jazz and R&B. Could you not just as easily lay an electronic beat under these songs to compliment the repetitive rhythms and notes?
With this in mind, I was delighted to hear Cavalier from McMorrow’s forthcoming album, Post Tropical (out on Vagrant Records, January 2014). The sobering sentiment of his music remains the same, but the banjo and acoustic guitar have been shelved for electronic layering and smooth soul sounds. Is that also brass I hear triumphing along with his falsetto at the end of the song? Comparisons to James Blake, D’Angelo, and perhaps even Jamie Woon are sure to arise. I can't help but hear even earlier sounds as well - sounds similar to those I grew up with. Synthesized, beat-driven, often sentimental ‘soft rock’ from the late 70’s and early 80’s. If his cover of Higher Love was any indication, I might be inclined to listen to McMorrow’s track along with the likes of early Steve Winwood or Phil Collins. And I’m certain I wasn’t the first to notice the album art for Post Tropical and it’s resemblance to Christopher Cross’ 1979 album. Flamingos unite.
In anticipation of the full Post Tropical album, I like to listen to Cavalier as inherently attributed to earlier music forms, deepened by modern soul and R&B influences, but driven further forward by rapt attention to what's come before. An understanding of (and perhaps even a tribute to) this landscape has allowed him to put notes to a boarder picture, and create a singular sound for himself.
It’s clear that McMorrow should not be pegged as a folk artist. There’s a genre-blending here that leaves me rapt for what other sounds might emerge from his new record. But if one thing is woven throughout his repertoire, it’s a sense of sweet lamentation, the loss of an idea or some fond love -and all I hear throughout is a beautiful, Irish Caoineadh song. I remember my first love.