James Vincent Mc Morrow released his debut record, Early in the Morning, in Ireland to widespread critical acclaim in February 2010.
A stunning collection of songs recorded over 5 months in an isolated house by the sea, the album is a completely self recorded and played affair, filled with beguiling and vivid stories, fables that move from a whisper in your ear to a mountainous crescendo in the space of a song, all the while retaining the environment and sentiment in which they were formed.
"This record was borne out of my desire to create something singular, take the simplest of chords, wrap them in washes of melody, so lines come in, they drop out, everything ebbs and flows as the songs move towards their inevitable end. I don't sit down with an agenda when I write, I usually have a first line, and a vague sense in my head of where I'm going, but no real solid structure. Music tends to reveal itself to me over the course of weeks and months. It's probably quite like sculpting, you have a chisel, you know what's waiting for you inside the stone, all that's left is to chip away the pieces and reveal it."
From the very first lines of the album, that singularity is there for all to hear. A 5 part harmony cascades in, followed by a growling organ and slide guitar line of the eeriest and spectral kind. ‘If I had a boat' is not only a most fitting opener, but also a song that perfectly encapsulates the dense lyricism and compelling melody of the 40 minutes that are to follow. Its words intense but never over wrought, a vocal line that pulls you along towards a truly epic ending, an arrangement of swirling lines and inventive thought, it is a song to truly build upon for sure.
"I always knew when I wrote this song that it would open the album" acknowledges James, "the lyric is very much about transition, about change. That is definitely the underlying theme that ties it all together. The last 2 years that preceded this record being made involved some of the greatest change I'd ever experienced, physical, emotional, and spiritual. When I write lyrics they come together in a pretty uncoordinated way, lines get written, slowly link up until a story reveals itself. It was only when I was finished that I looked back and saw the words for what they were, realized what they meant."
Over the course of the 10 songs that follow, Early in the morning captivates completely. From the simple beauty of "hear the noise that moves so soft and low", the pastoral thump of "sparrow and the wolf', and the haunting grace of ‘follow you down to the red oak tree", the change and movement that James speaks of in the lyrical themes is perfectly reflected in the structure and pacing of the record itself. There is a deliberate sense to the tracklisting. When the lone kick and dual pianos of ‘we dont eat' give way to the 1960's west coast folk of ‘this old dark machine', its exactly the way James intends it to be.
Towards the latter half of the record a darker tone emerges, or as James puts it, "the closest I'll ever get to proper mythical fantasy writing!" These songs are where we find him at his most literate and ornate, creating ominous figures, and a wholly tangible sense of tension and foreboding. Drawing on his childhood love of Roald Dahl, as well as his fascination with American novelists such as John Steinbeck and F Scott Fitzgerald, James draws life from their writings because "they all examine the darker less spoken about aspects of life, solitude, disillusionment. I'm not one for defining a lyric, or what it definitively means, but songs like ‘follow you down to the red oak tree', ‘from the woods', and ‘down the burning ropes' are certainly me exorcising the underside of my personality. The characters I create in those songs, the ones existing in the shadows, they are all elements of me for sure"
And then the album draws to a close just as it started, bucolic 5 part harmony. the title track of the record, which James describes as a "simple ode to the love that I have", is backed by a banjo and a piano, a folk round that fades out as quietly as it arrives, the squeak of the piano stool a final reminder of the homespun nature of what has just occurred.
Currently playing live for James is a hushed and reverential affair, each show met with pin drop silence as people follow every word, every syllable. It will not always be this way though, as James dreams of a much grander affair in the near future. "I do want the music to be played how it is on the record, I dream in vivid Technicolor when it comes to my songs, not just black and white. I hear it with drums and horns and accordions and banjos and anything else that can be hit or strummed! Playing on my own right now is beautiful because it allows me to connect on a very primitive level, but I'd like to be in a place soon where I can be surrounded with friends on stage to share this with me".
Whatever that near future might hold, you get the strongest sense that there are some truly wondrous things to come for this man. "Music to me is this fluid notion, I've captured one element of it with this album, but there are endless others out there to be sung and written about".