Preview Review (James Vincent McMorrow’s Early in the Morning)

James Vincent McMorrow’s debut album Early in the Morning, which finally receives stateside release this January, comes at you largely in a whisper that could be mistaken for Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. For the listener to make that assumption however could be critical- for them, not McMorrow. The singer-songwriter probably owes a greater debt to Crosby Stills Nash and Young, or Donny Hathaway, whom he confesses lured him away from hardcore music for good, though does have a higher register similar to Vernon. Early in the Morning also features a haunting homespun sound, stemming from the album’s recording in isolation at a house in Ireland by the sea. McMorrow is overspilling with his own softly-strummed talent however. Early in the Morning achieved chart-topping success in Ireland in 2010 and deserves the full attention and praise critics have to offer here.

“If I Had A Boat”, the album’s powerful, harmonized first track which McMorrow claims was fated to begin the album, sets the tone for the rest of the tracks. It’s melodic and folksy, but also reflective, transformative. The album reveals itself darkly like an iceburg, seemingly monolithic and ancient as McMorrow increasingly draws upon darker themes of abandonment and loneliness, disillusion in the world and loved ones. He mythologizes even as he confesses his own personal experiences of great change and self-discovery were a massive impact upon the songwriting. He tries to avoid a too critical reading of his own lyrics, however.

McMorrow got a late start with his interest in music, having picked up a guitar only at the age of nineteen. He was originally a fan of metal, an influence that is absent from his work now because he began listening to 60s music instead. Hathaway’s song “I Love You More Than You Will Ever Know” is what made him want to sing, and he cites a lot of female singers as influential as well, given his range. After several years of focused practice at the piano, he got the idea to produce his own album from notions of hip-hop artists doing the same. Six months of recording produced the eleven tracks that make up Early in the Morning.

“Sparrow and the Wolf” has energizing, bright acoustics and is sure to warm the coldest of winters, even as McMorrow proclaims “I see no joy in this world”, a sentiment seemingly echoed in the more somber-sounding “Breaking Hearts”, in which the speaker admonishes a former lover to stop crying and wanders aimlessly. “We Don’t Eat” is breathtaking lyrically and sonically, with McMorrow proclaiming “at dawn I would watch the sun cut ribbons through the bay”. “This Old Dark Machine” is downright soulful and “And If My Heart Should Somehow Stop” full of passion. It’s followed by the wistful, banjo-strummed “Early in the Morning, I’ll Come Calling”. This finale track, perhaps suggesting Peter Paul and Mary’s “Early in the Morning” in spirit as well as title, is uplifting and restorative, bringing the album to a conclusion reminiscent of the beginning but forward-looking; a fitting end to McMorrow’s journey.

James Vincent McMorrow – If I Had A Boat by statemagazine

James Vincent Mcmorrow – This Old Dark Machine


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