With this, his debut album, arriving in February 2010 not long after the huge successes of vocal-led American folk outfits like Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver, it's easy to mistake James Vincent McMorrow for just another sound-alike, particularly when his soft, high-pitched vocal style often seems like a faithful homage to Justin Vernon. But to do so would deride the quality of songwriting on 'Early In The Morning', quality that has now been recognised with a Choice Music Prize nomination.
Light, frothy harmonies are at the heart of McMorrow's sound, with a style just as delicate and considered as that of his own voice. The a capella opening of 'If I Had A Boat' prepares the way for things to come, evolving into a yearning ballad grounded by alternating bass drum and tambourine and boasting a gorgeous chorus backed by soft oohs. 'From The Woods' is another clear highlight, lilting gently until it erupts into its enormously satisfying climax as McMorrow repeatedly cries "they are coming from the woods" alongside interjecting howling. Elsewhere, 'We Don't Eat' is a wonderful example of expertly built suspense, beginning with a single piano note played repeatedly against a simple chord progression and solid drum beat before gradually gathering additional lines of quiet orchestration.
Banjos and ukuleles aside, McMorrow's imagery is also symptomatic of his influences, referencing typically outdoorsy and, dare I say, contrived Americana fodder (boats, the woods, wildlife, you get the idea). Perhaps it's the fact that it sounds so American that leaves you occasionally questioning the level of authenticity in McMorrow's material. Highly unique, perhaps not, but 'Early in the Morning' is always pleasant and, every now and then, absolutely beautiful.