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Review: Kevin Morby Ponders the Eternal on ‘Oh My God’

Dylan and other seekers pop up as influences on Kansas City songwriter’s spiritually minded album

Kevin Morby photographed for his upcoming fifth record "Oh My God."

Kevin Morby photographed for his upcoming fifth record "Oh My God."

Barrett Emke

Kansas City indie-rock artist Kevin Morby is a secular guy with a spiritual side, and on his fifth LP he thinks deep (and sometimes somewhat less deep) about the nature of religious devotion, tapping a rich lineage of transcendentally-minded musical history. The title track is a rollicking piano number that sounds like it was recorded in an old clapboard Baptist church, with Morby in full gospel shouter mode, asking “Please, won’t you release me?” before the song is transmogrified by an angelic choir and then a sky-kissing sax outro. The expansive hippie-soul of “No Halo” connects the eternal to a childlike sense of wonder.

This stuff can get a little goofy. “Storm (Beneath the Weather)” is literally just a minute and a half of a rainstorm. (Power of nature, man.) “Congratulations” opens with recordings of people praying for forgiveness. “Every plant just wants to dance in the warm breeze,” Morby waxes philosophically on “I Want to Be Clean,” a meditation in trying to be a decent person. He’s more engaging when he brings things down to a human scale, as on the rollicking “Hail Mary,” and the funny, dreamily lovelorn “Piss River,” two tunes where he makes like Gospel Dylan, if Dylan was a cosmic niceguy.  

Morby keeps the instrumentation sparse but rich, with horns, harps, piano, organ and backing choirs peppered throughout. His musical erudition is fun, too. “OMG Rock n Roll” taps the ballroom body-moving side of the Velvet Underground, with chugging organs and Morby as soulman, testifying, “Oh my lord, come carry me home.” Other moments bring to mind bliss-chasers from Laura Nyro to the Mamas and the Papas to his fellow Great Plains questers the Flaming Lips. Ultimately, despite its divine themes, the pleasures of Oh My God are pleasantly transitory, less a reckoning with the Almighty than the religious experience of casually browsing a well-stocked used record sale in a church basement. 

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