Irish singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow has one of the most arresting voices of any young singer you're likely to hear this year: He's got the heartbreaking falsetto of a Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and the raspy soul of a Ray LaMontagne, in a way that sounds both fragile and grand. In this intimate performance at the NPR Music offices, McMorrow seems almost possessed by his own voice, lost in its haunting spirit. The audience was lost in it, too.
McMorrow is currently on a North American tour to promote his debut record, Early in the Morning. It's a collection of simple but captivating acoustic songs that are sometimes dark and foreboding and full of tension, but also pastoral and hopeful. Listening to the album, it's hard to believe that McMorrow started off as a drummer inspired more by hardcore and hip-hop than folk.
"I started listening to older music from the '50s and learning guitar, piano," he says. "Then I heard a Donny Hathaway song called 'I Love You More Than You Will Ever Know,' and it made me want to start singing."
For his set at the Tiny Desk, McMorrow performed solo versions of three cuts from his record: "This Old Dark Machine," "Sparrow and the Wolf" and "Follow You Down to the Red Oak Tree." He also treated us to a new, unreleased song called "Red Dust."
McMorrow's U.S. tour runs through the end of September. Make a point of seeing him if you can.