After listening to band after band during last year’s SXSW project, it’s easy to get dissuaded when everything starts to sound a little bit the same. The music that interests me normally pushes the limits of the genre or is trying to combine different sounds to make something new. Every once in a while though, something would come along that would just plain move me. James Vincent McMorrow’s music did just that. I got through one track, already in full goose bump mode, and continued on until I finished the whole of his album. At the time, it was only released in Ireland and bits of the UK, but I knew this would be an artist that would be on the tip of more than a few tongues throughout 2011. I think I called this one spot on.
McMorrow has had a really strong six months, building fans through constant touring both in a headlining fashion and on the festival circuit this summer. He’s moved on from solo gigs to full-band performances and has graduated from small rooms to some pretty decent sized rooms that he can fill purely from his own billing. He’s set his sights highest throughout Europe where he has had the opportunity to play some choice venues including Dublin’s Olympia and London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall (which featured support from fellow “12” artist The Civil Wars). In addition to all of his proper live gigs, McMorrow performed countless radio and video sessions ranging in location from castle hallways to Mediterranean beaches. If there’s one strong admiration for James Vincent McMorrow that I take away from this project, it’s his work ethic. He rarely takes time off and when he does it seems he gets right back to recording demos preparing for a sophomore release. This level of push is so important in the current music climate. McMorrow is succeeding on the quality of his music, but it doesn’t hurt that he’s done everything he can to get his sound out to as many ears as possible.
Interestingly, much of his attention has come from some unexpected projects. McMorrow has always shown a keen choice for cover songs, none that caught on more than his version of Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love”. Originally recorded and released pretty quietly as part of a benefit compilation for Silver Lining. Months later, the track caught steam through the blogosphere eventually netting top billing on The Hype Machine’s daily charts. His reinvention of the classic Eighties track put Winwood’s song in a whole new light and updated for a brand new listener base. McMorrow’s covers of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” and Adele’s “Someone Like You” have also proved to be popular at different times throughout the last half-year. These pieces hold up well on their own, but more importantly they draw listeners in to McMorrow’s original material. The same can be said for other left-field releases like Adventure Club’s “We Don’t Eat” Remix (spun more than 250,000 times on Soundcloud) or Andrew Clancy’s “A Year in New York” piece set to “We Don’t Eat” (an astonishing 400,000 views in the last twenty days!).
None of these successful covers or projects would have worked if it weren’t for McMorrow’s talent both in performance and songwriting. Though his music comes from a different place, McMorrow’s story and heart-wrenching falsetto can draw favorable comparison to a break-out artist of a couple years back: Bon Iver. As much as it must be hard to constantly be compared to another artist, Justin Vernon has set a great example of what can be done by evolving something that is so decidedly stark in new and beautiful directions. Of all the “12” artists, I have probably listened to Early in the Morning more than any other album. There is so much entwined beauty and harmony throughout that it creates one of those full listening experiences so rarely found from a debut artist. Since it is so great on its own, it gives me even more reason to believe that McMorrow will chart some different directions in the future. His voice and songwriting needs to be heard more, so I’ll continue to shout it from virtual rooftops, but I don’t think he’ll really need my help. Great music should and will be celebrated, so McMorrow has nothing to worry about if he continues to trust his musical instincts towards the sublime. Sometimes it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.