James Vincent McMorrow – Download of “If I Had A Boat”
Today Kim posted a blog of mini reviews of five cd’s that she pulled off the shelf and gave a first listen. One of them was the new release by James Vincent McMorrow, Early In the Morning.
It reminded me that I’ve been meaning to post this MP3. I received a copy of the record a couple months back and it’s one of my favorites so far this year. It’s reminiscent of Bon Iver and the Fleet Foxes, both of which I can’t seem to get enough of.
From the press bio:
James first started to venture into the world of music in college. “My first instrument was the drums: I used to listen to a lot of hardcore music, At The Drive In, Refused, Glassjaw,” James notes. As James’ musical tastes broadened, so did his instrumental skills. “I started listening to older music from the 50’s-70’s, and learning guitar, piano. Then I heard a Donny Hathaway song called I Love You More Than You Will Ever Know and it made me want to start singing.” The following years were spent in the front room of his parent’s house with the piano. James recalls, “I sat in front of that piano for about three years singing notes over and over again until I could get them right.” Because of the high soulful tone to his voice, James found particular encouragement from female singer/songwriters whose vocal ranges were similar to his own. “I’ve been a huge fan of female singers, probably because of the way I sing. I can understand the way they construct melody almost better than I can the way male singers write,” James notes. “But it wasn’t until about 4 years ago that I actually wrote my first song. I knew I needed to have things worth talking about before I put pen to paper.”
With finished songs under his belt, it came time to record. Intrigued by the notion of tracking himself, James became fascinated with popular hip-hop acts self-producing some of the most sought-after albums amongst the masses. “That’s how I started learning how to record myself,” remembers James, “by listening to people like The Neptunes and Timbaland, and trying to figure out how they did what they did.” In January of 2009 James moved to an isolated house by the Irish Sea, about an hour outside of Dublin, with the intention to record a demo. Within a month James found he loved the sound he was getting, and decided to create an album. “It took six months. I recorded and played everything myself, using one microphone and a computer, and all the equipment and instruments I’d used to make my first demos. In June 2009 I played it for people for the first time and everyone seemed to really get it.”
From start to finish, Early In The Morning is a ten-song recollection of one man’s journey through a time of change and transition. Having four years worth of songs written and endless time to document them allowed for James to dissect each song and perfect. Early In The Morning begins with a five-part harmony echoing over the sounds of an organ and folk guitar in the eerie opener, If I Had A Boat. “ I always knew when I wrote this song that it would open the album,” acknowledges James. “The last two years that preceded this record being made involved some of the greatest change I’d ever experienced, physical, emotional and spiritual. When I write lyrics they come together in a pretty uncoordinated way, lines get written, slowly link up until a story reveals itself. It was only when I was finished that I looked back and saw the words for what they were, realized what they meant.” Serving as a perfect prelude to the nine tracks that follow, If I Had A Boat lyrically captures the underlying tone of the entire album. Written about transformation and change, the first song is equal parts thoughtfully crafted words and inventive instrumental arrangements, serving as a foundation for the songs to come.
Towards the latter half of the record a darker tone emerges, or as James puts it, “the closest I’ll ever get to proper mythical fantasy writing!” These songs are where we find him at his most literate and ornate, creating ominous figures, and a wholly tangible sense of tension and foreboding. Drawing on his childhood love of Roald Dahl, as well as his fascination with American novelists such as John Steinbeck and F Scott Fitzgerald, James draws life from their writings because “they all examine the darker less spoken about aspects of life, solitude, disillusionment. I’m not one for defining a lyric, or what it definitively means, but songs like ‘follow you down to the red oak tree’, ‘from the woods’, and ‘down the burning ropes’ are certainly me exorcising the underside of my personality. The characters I create in those songs, the ones existing in the shadows, they are all elements of me for sure”
And then the album draws to a close just as it started, bucolic five-part harmony. The title track of the record, which James describes as a “simple ode to the love that I have”, is backed by a banjo and a piano, a folk round that fades out as quietly as it arrives, the squeak of the piano stool a final reminder of the homespun nature of what has just occurred.