Magnificent and meditative album from Lubbock born singer songwriter.
There are certain threads that run through this album; it’s a reflection on the passing of time, life, death and how we use our fleeting interlude on this planet. Morby’s seventh studio album was written whilst he was holed up in Room 409 of the historic Peabody Hotel in Memphis, located a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River. Reflecting on the past two years, Morby said that “Memphis became the representation of all of the American cities and towns I wanted to talk about. Because of all it had been through, there’s a resilience there that spoke to what we were all dealing with in different ways at the time.”
The album was heavily influenced by the collapse and ensuing hospitalisation of Morby’s father during a visit to his family home in January 2020. Morby spent the subsequent evening looking at old family photographs. A picture of the singer’s father as a confident, bare-chested young man caught his attention and led Morby to meditate on the notions of trauma and that “The future is uncertain but the end is always near”, as Jim Morrison once said. Fortunately, Morby’s father recovered. The opening song, ‘This Is A Photograph,’ references this incident with Morby exclaiming, ‘This is what I’ll miss after I die, And this is what I’ll miss about being alive’.
The album’s filled with references to singers (Jeff Buckley, Tina Turner, Otis Redding), boxers (Sugar Ray Leonard), baseball players (Mickey Mantle), and actors (Diane Lane) and the allusion to time slipping away. Although the second track, ‘A Random Act Of Kindness’, commences with ‘Out of time, out of money’ it ends with the sun coming up restoring some hope. ‘Bittersweet, TN’ is an achingly beautiful and tender, melancholy duet with Erin Rae framed by a banjo and fiddle. Morby touches again on the passing of time and the ephemeral nature of relationships and life: ‘There was a time when you were mine’ and ‘The living took forever but the dying was quick’.
In ‘Disappearing’ Morby pleads ‘If you go down to Memphis, please don’t go swimming in the Mississippi River’. His imploring is wonderfully offset by alumni from the Stax Academy of Music singing backing harmonies. ‘A Coat Of Butterflies’ is another homage to Buckley, his tragic death and how his version of ‘Hallelujah’ ‘Did what Leonard never could to it, Gave it wings and then away it was’. The song takes its title from a story that just before he passed away, Buckley was trying to become the butterfly keeper at Memphis Zoo.
The album comes to a close with the simple acoustic strumming of ‘Goodbye To Good Times’. Morby ends the record as it begins: ‘Well this is a photograph, A window to the past, Of a family growing old in the boxing ring of time, Bittersweet, Bittersweet, Bittersweet’. It’s a reminder that unlike most boxers time always remains undefeated.
Maybe it was planned or maybe it was fate that this album has been released almost 25 years to the day that Jeff Buckley tragically drowned in the Mississippi River at Memphis, whilst awaiting the arrival of his band from New York. Whatever the case, this album is equal to Buckley’s best work and hopefully these thoughtful and beautiful songs will get the same recognition.