2005 / Music

Review: My Morning Jacket Refines Their Sound

Jam Band Releases Fourth Full-Length Disc

There’s more than one way to become famous in the music business. For some bands, their careers take off like a rocket because of a hit song or remarkable album. The groups are transformed from struggling artists to running buddies with P. Diddy.

Photo: ATO Records

Photo: ATO Records

For other bands, achieving headliner status is more about built-up momentum. As opposed to a cataclysmic commercial event, it’s the result of a slowly accumulating audience attracted to an undiscovered musical treasure.

The band’s previous major works, “It Still Moves” and “At Dawn,” were pleasing enough records that established that the band had a unique sound. The group’s most pronounced musical characteristics are singer/guitarist Jim James’s heavy-on-the-ol’ reverb vocals (his lyrics are as indistinct as any sung by early Michael Stipe) and their songs’ generous instrumental passages (this even though the group boasts no star-quality instrumentalists).

Besides the jam-friendly attitude, their use of Marshall-stack-powered guitars and the slight Southern lilt in James’ voice have earned the group comparisons to ’70s rock titans like Neil Young or Lynard Skynard or the Allman Brothers. (Hey, the band even has a cameo appearance in the new flick “Elizabethtown,” which was written and directed by that champion of all things classic rock, Cameron Crowe.)

My Morning Jacket’s newest effort, “Z,” takes a step toward rectifying the problem. It builds on the groundwork of their earlier albums but refines the group’s sound. The band has distilled their music down to the core elements and worked to make each song a standalone piece. More specifically, they’ve emphasized those country and world music influences that were previously washed out in all that echo.

Besides a couple of new band members, the most discernible new ingredient to band’s circle is the presence of album producer John Leckie. One can easily detect the influence of Leckie’s most famous clients — Radiohead — early on in this record. “It Beats 4 U” has the identical jittery rhythm found on “Paranoid Android” and James’ voice is treated with as much holy-spirit reverence as Thom Yorke’s. Both “It Beats 4 U” and disc’s opening track, “Wordless Chorus,” are filled with Radiohead-like, LSD-inspired auditory pulsations that reassure listeners that they are in fact on a trip of sorts.

Besides the tried and true, this record does have some curveballs too. “Off The Record” features ska guitar fills that sound beefed up on steroids. This is augmented by an electric piano that mimics the sounds of steel drums. For “Knot Comes Loose,” the band creates a pretty ballad using piano, acoustic and steel guitars, and bongos?

“Z” ultimately is another step on the ladder for My Morning Jacket. Like any great jam, the band seems to be growing and building in strength and working up toward a climax. This process could take another year or it could take another 20, but the band will likely be gathering ever more to watch this all unfold.

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Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.

©Copyright 2005 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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