These guys are hard to pin down but are really growing on me. My Morning Jacket is a band from Kentucky so they started out on the alt-country road but have taken many divergent routes along the way. The vocals of Jim James are unique. The drumming tends to be really heavy on the bass and snare. The guitar duty is split between James and his cousin Johnny Quaid. The guitar sound sometimes reminds one of Neil Young or Pink Floyd or The Strokes…hard to say sometimes. I have not heard their latest installment Circuital but I think their best album is Okonokos, a live album that followed the tour of 2005’s Z. The album sounds fantastic and fresh. Reportedly, the DVD version is similarly impressive.
The studio albums from MMJ have been a bit uneven. Their first effort, The Tennessee Fire from 1999 is pretty low-key and roughly produced. We don’t yet hear James voice here. At Dawn in 2001 gets a much fuller sound and the distinctive vocals start coming out. They seem to be mixed to far back behind the rest of the band though. Some highlights here are the now-classic The Way He Sings which is really beautiful and captured live on the 2005 Austin City Limits CD and Xmas Curtain which I really like. The aforementioned Z from 2005 is a great disk full of great guitar (Dondante), catchy tunes (It Beats 4 U) and other jams (Wordless Chorus). It takes a few listens but one gets into the mood rather comfortably here. It is not always an easy disk but it is probably the highlight of their catalog. Following this is Evil Urges from 2007 which marked even more of a departure from their alt-country roots. There are some good tunes here (Aluminum Park, Evil Urges and Touch Me I’m Going to Scream) but some ones I find too weird (in particular I find Highly Suspicious annoying). Perhaps that’s why I haven’t rushed out to hear Curcuital. Another aspect of MMJ is that I can never understand what the hell he is talking about. Perhaps its the mix or just the nature of James’ lyrics but they don’t really seem to hold intrinsic meaning. The sound of his voice is more the critical thing here.
If I were to recommend a starter for MMJ, I would DEFINITELY start with Z and Okonokos and go from there. Definitely an interesting musical journey will await you.