If tears took wing, they’d fly away on a Sam Morrow melody. Throughout his absorbing debut album Ephemeral, Morrow immerses his tales of domestic, romantic, and internal strife in rich shades of blue. Although not yet in his mid-twenties, the California-based singer-songwriter displays the gravitas of a more seasoned artist. Complemented by Eric Corne‘s stately production, Morrow’s frank confessions reach lofty heights on the strength of his gripping vocals and stark lyrics.
Ephemeral effectively blends smaller moments with grand statements. Sometimes the music rarely rises above a hush; at other times the record is reminiscent of the soundtrack to a sweeping epic. Corne lets Morrow’s compositions take center stage, granting his words enough space to flourish against a backdrop of intimate, yet exhilarating instrumentation. Morrow’s joined on his album by an impressive roster of musicians that include Anthony “Tiny” Biuso, Carl Byron, Richard Dodd, Eric Gorfain, Sarah Grace, Freddy Koella, David Ralicke, Eamon Ryland, Blair Sinta, Sasha Smith, and Ian Walker. With their help, a palpable ache permeates Morrow’s work, seizing listeners by the heart.
Although Ephemeral contains autobiographical elements, Morrow’s stories also mirror those of his audience. Listeners should be able to recognize pieces of themselves in Morrow’s protagonists and their predicaments, whether they relate to the marital crisis that reaches a boiling point between a long-suffering wife and her alcoholic husband in the album’s opening salvo “War” or the narrator paralyzed by his own long-held fears in “Midland.” Forsaking artifice in favor of (sometimes) uncomfortable revelations, Morrow creates narratives that explore the complexities of the human experience.
While Morrow is in fine form vocally throughout the record, the haunting “Run” features some of his most expressive phrasing. With the barest hint of a quiver in his voice, he sings about being trapped between a desire to reconcile with his love and recognition of the difficult truth that she’s already moved on (“You’ll shine brighter – so much brighter – when I’m gone,” he admits). Carried by the bold swell of strings and brass, Morrow delivers a knockout performance that displays his vulnerability and culminates in a full-throated directive for his love to go her own way.
Women’s voices are featured prominently throughout the record even though they are not the primary narrators. In the aforementioned “War” the wary spouse must make a crucial decision whether to remain in her marriage. As melancholy violin binds the song together, winding throughout the verses and echoing the couple’s emotional strain, she arrives at a moment of clarity: “She’s been thinking/It’s only what you perceive/Cause if I see happiness in you/I can find it in me.” Grace’s harmony vocals provide the female perspective on the stirring ballad “December,” echoing Morrow’s frustrations with a long-distance relationship. “I miss you when you’re gone/And I’m gone when you’re here,” they sigh, refreshingly acknowledging a mutual pain.
Even as he peers fearlessly into the darkness of the human soul, Morrow still unearths traces of redemption. In Ephemeral‘s penultimate number “True North” he reflects on both ugly hypocrisy (“I’ll point at you when you fall from your past/To dust mine off of all the broken mirrored glass/We’d do anything to not see ourselves”) and unwavering hope. “It’s the journey that writes the song,” he emphasizes, confident that in spite of their imperfections, people will ultimately find their way into the light. It’s a timeless message that’s still worth hearing, just as Ephemeral is a timeless album worthy of even greater attention.