Professional road dog Kevin Morby put in plenty of months on tour even before going solo. Morby released his solo debut, Harlem River, in late 2013 while still an actively contributing and constantly touring member of both folksy warblers Woods and indie supergroup the Babies. Shortly before the release of the spiritually wandering Harlem River, Morby migrated from his longtime Brooklyn home to the sunny shores of Los Angeles, and while Harlem River was a picture postcard of Morby's times in New York, second solo album Still Life investigates his radically different Californian surroundings, and the new inspirations and challenges that came with this move. Beginning with the low-key amble of "The Jester, the Tramp & the Acrobat," Morby evokes the same meeting of storytelling and spirited, big-roots rock arrangements that Dylan perfected on albums like Desire. Indeed, "The Ballad of Arlo Jones" mirrors the same driven electricity in telling the story of a murdered friend that Dylan delivered on "Hurricane." Morby's solo sounds aren't terrifically far removed from his work with Woods and the Babies. Tunes like "Our Moon" work in the same spooky acoustic colors as those bands, but look deeper into Morby's songwriting, his husky vocals guiding deceptively simple arrangements that bloom abruptly into unexpected instrumentation and structure shifts. Likewise, there are unexpected stylistic spikes to Still Life. "Drowning" rides a delay-drenched beat that merges spacy electronic drums and bouncy Pet Sounds bass, while the droning "Dancer" finds Morby multi-tracking his vocals over a meandering guitar pattern, creating a strange and airy environment that sounds akin to nothing else on the album but somehow fits perfectly. The upbeat "Motors Runnin" is a standout, addressing the endless and unpredictable ride of being alive while summing up the restless wonder, excitement, and confusion that lie at the core of the album and find a different voicing from song to song.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas