I had the honor of seeing Dublin's James Vincent McMorrow open for Bell X1 last year when their acoustic tour made a stop in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was one of those special opening act moments, when you're blown away by someone you had previously never heard of. When a singer armed with just an acoustic guitar and his voice can keep a whole room transfixed, you know you're seeing a special artist, and with the American release of "Early In The Morning", we have further proof that is exactly what James Vincent McMorrow is.
Even stripped down to just guitar and vocal, the songs we heard performed live that night stood out because of McMorrow's angelic voice and the strong melodies inherent in his songwriting. They're more fleshed out on record but, if anything, gain from the extra instrumentation. This is another of those albums that is solid from start to finish with no filler and at 45 minutes, leaves you wanting more.
McMorrow wrote, recorded, arranged and played everything on the album, which he recorded over the course of five months in a house by the beach he moved to in early 2009 according to the liner notes. This concept always fascinates me, the incredible music that gets produced by musicians holed up in home recording studios all by themselves.
The album opens with just McMorrow's voice on the intro to "If I Had A Boat", a welcome introduction to his wonderful gift. Musically, his work falls under the folk-pop umbrella, with acoustic guitar, piano, bass and drums as the main instrumentation. Every song is filled with melody, harmonies and unforgettable choruses. "If I Had A Boat" is no exception, it's one of the best tracks on the album. This full band performance on Irish television's Other Voices does the album version's emotional impact justice. It's a safe bet, if you like this, you'll love the album.
"Early In The Morning" has its share of acoustic ballads like "Hear The Noise That Moves So Soft And Low" and "Down The Burning Ropes", but it also has its share of upbeat and intense tracks as well. I'm sure with the popularity of Mumford And Sons right now, a song like "Sparrow & The Wolf" will call to mind that band with its driving banjo and soaring chorus. "We Don't Eat" has a slightly unsettling single piano note running through the majority of the sparse track, joined by McMorrow's voice, a piano melody and a soft beating drum. The song then bursts to life in it's climactic final minute.
The first U.S. single from the album, "This Old Dark Machine", is a mid-tempo track with a warm chorus of "ooh's" that induce singing along. The accompanying music video is below.
The album's prettiest track is the one that immediately caught my attention when he opened for Bell X1, "Follow You Down To The Red Oak Tree". It's a tour de force performance with little more than McMorrow singing with his guitar, backed by himself on vocal harmonies. Here's a full band live performance of this thing of beauty.
"Early In The Morning" is all the more impressive as it is McMorrow's first full length release. The music world is filled with artists who take 2-3 albums before realizing something this good, and plenty more who never do. It cements James Vincent McMorrow as a new artist to pay close attention to, and a shining new star in the singer-songwriter genre.
"Early In The Morning" was released in the U.S. January 25, 2011 on Vagrant Records.