It Still Moves

My Morning Jacket

album cover

Blissed-Out Melodies That Rock

Jim James's impossibly lovely voice beckons from a parallel universe where rock and roll singing has not devolved into banshee screams or cartoon-superhero posturing. In this place, no bands wear spandex. Melody still counts for something. Being earnest, or believing in someone or something, is not an automatic liability.

The lead singer and songwriter of Kentucky's My Morning Jacket, James is a child of the '90s, and thus born far too late to be part of the great flowering of American rock of the late '60s and early '70s (the Doors, Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young, the Allman Brothers). This doesn't stop him from attempting to get back. His voice is usually bathed in warm echoes that make him seem far away, and openly yearns for that earlier era—in his music are traces of Young's weeping-willow refrains and Led Zeppelin's transcendence-seeking epics, not to mention the Doors' dark otherworldliness (or is that otherworldly darkness?). Crucially, he's not a revivalist, or some kind of nerd scholar: For all the vintage sonics (accomplished using old-school echo machines and other sound-shaping gizmos) James fronts a scrappy, ornery rock band that can throw down a slick groove and cruise with the best of the post-Phish noodlers. And then, unlike those bands, My Morning Jacket can astound listeners almost at will, just by circling back to one of its plaintive, unexpectedly stirring hooks.

The band's particular alchemy—gritty backbeats supporting vocals that float along in a metaphysical haze—reaches a strong peak on its third effort, It Still Moves. Some songs, like the opener "Mahgeetah," amount to a nonstop parade of blissed-out guilty-pleasure melodies, while the nine-minute "I Will Sing You Songs," traces a longer arc, with meditative verses erupting into spectacular cascades of vocal harmony. Virtually every song here (even the superdisciplined short ones) crackles with a sense of motion, endless seeking, restless travel. That's another way My Morning Jacket aligns with the classic rock legends: Its best songs are journeys, not destinations.

Genre: Rock
Released: 2003, ATO
Key Tracks: "Mahgeetah," "Master Plan," "I Will Sing You Songs"
Catalog Choice: At Dawn; Evil Urges
Next Stop: The Flaming Lips: The Soft Bulletin
After That: M. Ward: Transistor Radio
Book Page: 538

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