March 2006

My Morning Jacket - Z
ATO/RCA Records 82876 71067-2
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

My Morning Jacket may be somewhat hirsute and come from Louisville, Kentucky, but they sure don’t sound like a Southern rock band. Maybe someone spiked their Wild Turkey with acid, because the obvious influences on the band’s new disc, Z, are great progressive bands of the late '60s, such as King Crimson, and the sonic playfulness of psychedelic-era records, especially the first two Steve Miller Band albums. The band’s previous disc, It Still Moves, had the same musical expansiveness, but the occasional steel guitar on that disc has been replaced with keyboard washes and Mellotrons.

Much like The Flaming Lips, My Morning Jacket sounds utterly current while tapping into the kind of grand ambition that made the best progressive rock so exhilarating. Its music avoids the fatuous self-importance that killed that strain of rock, opting instead for smart songwriting and a solid, danceable beat. "What a Wonderful Man" is shrewd, radio-friendly pop that owes a little to another atypical Southern band, Big Star, while "Off the Record" has a reggae pulse that would make the Clash proud. "Lay Low," with its double lead-guitar lines and strong groove, could almost be mistaken for Southern boogie, except for its strangely ominous atmosphere.

John Leckie co-produced Z with My Morning Jacket’s leader, Jim James. Leckie, who has also produced records by the Stone Roses, Radiohead, and the Verve, likes a dense sound, and the band itself seems to like a lot of reverb. While I would have preferred a cleaner, more spacious recording, the music on Z is compelling and rich.