Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Sundowner, the new album from former VMP Essentials artist Kevin Morby.
In 2017, Kevin Morby found himself in a situation not that dissimilar, at least in function, to the one we’re all dealing with now. He’d recently moved home to Kansas City, and found himself more or less contained to his house, with nothing to do but watch westerns, teach himself new cooking techniques, and live with his big thoughts about big subjects like death, left to think by himself in the Midwest. When not on tour for his albums City Music and last year’s Oh My God, Morby would sequester himself in his suburban home, and record into a four-track, stripping his ballooning sound — Oh My God’s credits list was his longest yet — down to its barest, starkest elements. Eventually, he finished 10 songs earlier this year, right as COVID postponed the remaining dates on the Oh My God tour, and instead of holding onto them, he turned them into a completely new LP, Sundowner, a raw, stunning song cycle that confronts aging, the slow drift of adult friendships, the rush of new relationships, and how the sun in the Midwest really is underrated. It’s a warm embrace, a welcome escape to spend 47 minutes in.
Spiritually, Sundowner is of a piece with Morby’s 2016 breakthrough Singing Saw, another album recorded in isolation, and steeped in the empty space Morby left between and around his words. But where Singing Saw, in its antsier moments, could replicate the rush of the city — see “I Have Been to the Mountain” — Sundowner is all Great Plains vastness, with the songs sounding like you could drive a pickup truck through their blank space. “A Night At The Little Los Angeles” is so spacious that a solemn marimba sounds like a howling wind, and “Campfire” actually sounds like a song recorded around s’more assembly, with nothing but the sky above.
In the quiet, Morby contemplates many things that don’t resolve with ease. On “Jaime” he imagines what his friend — who died young — does in the afterlife, and on “Sundowner” he chases the dying of the day’s light, fighting off the night when you’re alone, and with your thoughts. The specter of new love, the suburbs, and the calm, required patience of the Midwest hang over album standout “Don’t Underestimate Midwest American Sun,” a song built on Morby’s delicate voice, a pecked piano, a drum machine and guitar strums. By the time the album reaches “Provisions,” — a song that starts with a deer dead in the road — Morby has learned to live with the quiet, and is learning to take care of himself, despite anything that can come his way. Though Sundowner is not a quarantine album, it’s mood feels built for now, when it feels like everything is happening at once, and there’s no quiet and no way forward to figuring out what to do next. Sundowner might not provide answers, but at least it’s there on the journey with you.
You can buy the VMP edition of this album right here.
Andrew Winistorfer is Vinyl Me, Please’s Classics and Country Director, and an editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need In Your Collection and The Best Record Stores In The United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 20 VMP releases, and co-produced Nat Turner Rebellion's Laugh to Keep From Crying. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.