Give a passing listen to the sweet pain of "If I Had A Boat," the opening cut on Early in the Morning, and it's easy to dismiss James Vincent McMorrow as someone who's spent too much time listening to Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes. Delve further in the disc, though or even hear that song in greater depth, and it becomes apparent that McMorrow is no imitator. He is, in fact, an Irish soul man. Yes, he has his influences (never more than on "This Old Dark Machine," whose riff seems to be lifted from the Foxes' "Mykonos"), but this is a startling album that has profundity and mysticism to rival early-'70s Van Morrison — no small feat.
The crowning glory is "We Don't Eat," a tender slow burn that looks back to childhood pleasure and pain, building in intensity until it its pained heart is pumping naked on its sleeve. It's a gorgeous piece of work that makes powerful use of McMorrow's best weapon, his fragile falsetto. Throughout the album, he layers his vocals deftly, sounding occasionally like a full-choir and other times so delicate and fragile he might just drift away.
The album's sound is rough-hewn: It was written in a cottage on the Irish coast. Yet that rural surface hides real sophistication in the arrangements, a fine mesh of sparingly deployed instruments that allow that voice to shine. Even something as seemingly simple and straightforward as the closer "Early in the Morning, I'll Come Calling" reveals hidden depths with repeat listens. The entire disc is painstakingly crafted, a joy that only fully reveals itself over time — and that's time very well spent.