Kyle Morris is helping the environment, whether he intends to or not. Self-contained, armed with pretty much just an acoustic guitar and an expressive, worn-just-right voice, Morris creates a startlingly small carbon footprint (unless he plans to tour with a big rig). He’s full of winding melodies that work their way into your head and make a cozy home there awhile – this without the aid of drums, loud amps, keyboards or dance choreographers (again, I qualify this by admitting that I’m not privy to his touring plans). On his subtly sparkling new disc, Pica, Morris fuses the soon-to-be post-folk angularity of 60s Dylan strum with the comfy blanket of mid-70s classic AOR (think Little Feat and Lightfoot), rarely straying beyond the foundation of elemental acoustic accompaniment. “Bleached Bones” provides a scintillating peek at what Radiohead fronted by Springsteen might’ve sounded like. It’s a steady tune, easily gliding from peak to peak without expending excess energy.
“Now Mama” chugs along like a steam locomotive running on ashes that’s tantalizingly close to town, while the stairstep-jumping cadences of “Memory” rub against a droning organ, creating musical tension underneath Morris’ intermittent, forceful vocals. This isn’t cookie-cutter alt-folk by any stretch; Pica is full of complex, layered and thoughtful songwriting in a deceptively simple package. It’s not going out on a limb to point towards Nebraska when describing this CD, though stylistically and lyrically it couldn’t be more different.
“Post” moves along atop propulsive strumming and a hearty vocal, a bread-and-butter folk/pop number that should be enough to encourage folks to look for the next Kyle Morris live date (Friday, July 11, in fact, at Borders on Clinton Street). Not necessarily in contrast but certainly in tempo comes “Daydream,” an introspective number recalling some of Joe Henry’s early work and constructed well enough that you’ll find yourself replaying snippets of it in your head, days later, out of nowhere.
A highlight among many on this album is the sprightly “Sad Like a Sunken Ship,” a tune that makes you completely forget this is just a guy and his geetar. That’s the hallmark of grade-A songwriting. “I just can’t let you be,” sings Morris plaintively, and you root for him. You should. Given the opportunity to sink in, Pica will improve the environment between your ears. (D.M. Jones)
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