Symbolically, the mountain is a place of enormous spiritual heft. People don’t say words like “I have been to the mountain” lightly—that’s the beginning of a heavy story. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech looked toward a better tomorrow—a journey through hardship to eventually reach “the Promised Land.” The day after he gave that speech, he was murdered in Memphis.
Kevin Morby doesn’t have Dr. King’s serenity or hope when he returns from his proverbial mountain trip. Like so many others, Morby was hit hard by the death of Eric Garner and the subsequent judicial injustice. And in a press release, he said “I Have Been to the Mountain” is “dedicated to and inspired by” Garner’s death. The song finds Morby reflecting on Garner as a real person, someone who walked among us and no longer can: “That man lived in this town/ ‘Til that pig took him down.” He’s haunted by Garner’s final words, “the sound of a man stop breathing, pleading.” Morby asks us to “destroy the destroyer.”
Morby’s message never feels self-righteous or preachy. “I Have Been to the Mountain” is laced with melancholy, but after Morby sings about a crowd of people demanding answers over acoustic minor chords, the song temporarily brightens. He’s joined by joyous sounds—a triumphant horn section and beatific harmonies from three backup singers. It’s an impressive arsenal, and one that does an excellent job of rounding out Morby’s lovely and softspoken voice. If Morby, this seemingly meek guy, is going to return from the mountain to survey all the devastation, his band gives his words weight, authority, and context. That’s the point, after all—only so much good can come from one person speaking quietly.
Read more at: pitchfork.com