Kyle Morgan is a nomad artist of word and melody, a philosophizing songsterwho’s dynamic style resists simple categorization. Though his writing draws heavily on the tradition of American song and its roots in old-time balladry and country-blues, there’s too much Beatles and Kinks mixed in to accurately label it ‘Americana’. As evidenced by his debut 2013 release, Starcrossed Losers, Morgan has the uncanny ability to shift musical moods on a dime from rock’n’roll fueled angst to intimate nylon stringed love songs. Currently residing in Portland, Maine and originally from the rolling Appalachian foothills of central Pennsylvania, Morgan sings his way across America, sometimes with a band, sometimes alone.
BIND US ANEW
The songs featured on Bind Us Anew were a long time in the making. Since he started writing much of the material recorded here, Kyle Morgan (Starcrossed Losers) has toured the world multiple times over, as a solo act playing midnight house shows and folk clubs and as 1/3 of folk string band, Tumbling Bones. When the Bones broke up after two full years of touring, Morgan returned to his home in Portland, ME and faced a decision: quit the road for a while and earn a living painting houses, or get to work making a solo record. He didn’t remain long in limbo. “Life is just like that,” says Kyle, “You have to continually commit to the things you want, the life you want, or else stay frozen in the haze of indecision.”
The initial idea to make a record was sparked one late night after a house show at Tica Douglas' house, between Kyle and producer Ryan Dieringer, who had worked together on all of Tica's records. A month later, they were holed up in the carriage house studio of Mike Merenda (Mike & Ruthy) in the Catskills, waking up with the sun, recording live takes all day in the heat. Kyle was heavy with songs and ideas. The goal was to keep up. Besides the 50-min of music that made the cut, about as much was left on the floor.
Bind Us Anew is Morgan's first record under the name “Starcrossed Losers”. On the trifecta of 7-min folk epics that comprise the backbone of the record (“Downright Down”, “Breathe In, Breathe Out,” & “Don't Do This Thing”), Morgan's performance is one of a melody-wielding Dylan Thomas. He tells stories of timeless conundrums in colorful rhyme schemes. On the rest of the shorter tracks, hummable tunes punctuate with comparable levity. Not all good songwriters are good storytellers, and nor are all good storytellers tuneful songwriters. Kyle, in that regard, is remarkable.
A common theme of these stories is the weight of emotional and moral paralysis. In “Breathe In, Breathe Out”, the narrator is trapped in a room that is slowly filling with water. He is alternately disturbed and resigned: “I'm tired of the fits of living so why not try out dying?” On “Don't Do This Thing”, a man must decide whether to follow through with murder or else risk the life of his wife and daughter. Redolent of traditional murder ballads, the songs are nonetheless felt as parables with contemporary resonance. Morgan is not one to hide within the fiction. In “Downright Down”, it is he who is paralyzed, trapped between the sheets after an ill-advised one-night stand.
Kyle is aware of his ongoing attraction to these types of stories. He explains, “they reveal a paradox of human experience, between simultaneous separation and union. We are spiritual beings living in a material world, caught between the animal and the angel, and yet we are also one.” He describes being influenced heavily by the mystical novels of Hermann Hesse: “In Steppenwolf, he examines the splintered self in such an artful way. He puts you right in the midst of that dissolution of the psyche, maps out the spiritual repercussions of neurosis, and links the idea of destruction and death with resurrection and rebirth.”
Other standouts include gushy, AM love songs like “Don't Tell Me” and “Is Love Enough”, which smack of early Beatles, yet bear along Morgan's weighty exploration of meaning through union and human connection. The hushed ballad, “Be Near Me Now,” and ambient closer, “Barnard Lament”, deliver sucker punches of heartfelt singing while cleverly blurring the line between addressing a lover, or something higher.
Morgan describes this dichotomy as influenced by reading I & Thou, by Martin Buber, an Austrian-born Jewish philosopher. “His writing emphasizes the lived-actuality of human relations, as opposed to some transcendent spiritual domain separate from our flesh and bones world. Before ever reading Buber’s work, I wrote the words, “Bind us anew, I to You, You to I” with a vague, unformed notion of longing for union with the transcendent. Similarly, 'Be Near Me Now', was written as a prayer, but could just as well be addressed to a lover.” Both recordings capture that spirit of earthly transcendence within the album. “Barnard Lament” was recorded by Morgan himself alone at the keys of a pump organ inside First Universalist Church in Barnard, VT.
Existing fans who have stayed up into the early hours being regailled by Kyle Morgan will find that same dynamic ride over the course of Bind Us Anew's 50 min runtime. New fans scavenging for deep songs with a quiet sense of Americana and no fear of punk grit will enjoy exploring the heartfelt world of Starcrossed Losers.