This year, being what it is, Kevin Morby has been celebrating his new album “Sundowner,” due Friday from Dead Oceans, with a six-date virtual tour on which he’s been playing his albums in chronological order. He’ll wrap that tour Friday night with an all-ages concert of “Sundowner” hosted by NoonChorus and the Lodge Room Highland Park.
The former Angeleno will be performing from his home in suburban Kansas City; he moved back to his hometown from LA in 2017. He says he decorated his new digs with plants and pine evocative of the California desert and nicknamed the place “The Little Los Angeles.” How much of that bleeds into the music depends on what you bring to it as you listen.
The album feels like an organic product or echo of the 2020 pandemic, with all of its fears, funerals, abrupt changes and discoveries. But it was built from demos Morby recorded in isolation in 2017-’18 in a backyard shed vulnerable to extreme heat and cold and arachnid visitors. The process of composing the songs on his guitar with an old four-track Tascam recorder was an education in slowing down, turning inward, and adapting to new seasonal rhythms and sounds. Early last year, they were recorded in Texas with producer Brad Cook playing bass and keyboards and Morby handling guitar and Mellotron. (Percussionist James Krivchenia also makes a few essential appearances.)
Opening track “Valley” hints at Biblical imagery as well as road-worn, guitar-strumming troubadours such as Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan as it journeys beneath a sky where “all the stars are broken” into the known unknown. The dreamy, narcotic vibe of “A Night at the Little Los Angeles” evokes palm trees at dusk, late-night drives from Sunset Boulevard out to the desert, and befriending strangers at pre-COVID clubs. Midway through “Campfire,” a woman’s vocal floats in like a snatch of memory lit by crackling firewood, before Morby resumes his shambling narrative of departed friends and the cycles of time. The cautiously hopeful lines of “Provisions” (“And I never met a morning I didn’t like/ And I never met a night that I wouldn’t try twice”) are enhanced by the swells of a WWII-era pump organ.
Throughout, quiet pleasure is taken in discovery—of self, of home, of love—and the realignment of priorities. The relationship that was deepening during the album’s creation between Morby and Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee (whose recent album “Saint Cloud” similarly celebrates peace and contentment) seemingly informs the sweetly melancholy “Don’t Underestimate Midwest American Sun” and the title track. With its circle of allusive observations, the latter tune shifts the context of perceptions and reflects at least some of 2020’s existential uncertainty.
“I like the sun but I start to run
The moment that the sun runs from me
I am a sundowner
So live and leave
I am a sundowner
Don’t let the sun go down on me.”
Kevin Morby Virtual Concert Performance
6 p.m. Friday, October 16