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My Morning Jacket


[ATO Recordings; 2011]

By ; May 31, 2011 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

Wisely shedding those cluttered Evil Urges electronic effects that buried singer / songwriter Jim James’ rare glottal gift, Circuital cultivates a cleaner sound that spins as a consolidation of My Morning Jacket’s creative trajectory. Showcasing a diverse range of roots, country, and psych rock, James touts My Morning Jacket’s sixth studio LP – which the Louisville, Kentucky based band recorded in their hometown church – as “the most live record” he’s ever assembled.

My Morning Jacket’s popularity has steadily risen over their thirteen years on the scene, particularly since signing with ATO Records in 2002. Youthfully exuberant It Still Moves cracked The Billboard 200, eclectic romp Z squeezed into the top 100, and 2008’s opportunistic foray into drum machines Evil Urges ascended to #9. Yet along with this massive commercial success, James’ cred among fellow musicians has more than kept pace. He’s been showered with bountiful props from an array of indie music’s finest purveyors, including copious accolades for his collaboration with troubadour M. Ward and Bright Eyes as super-group Monsters of Folk.

From teaming up with alt-country sextet Calexico to cover Dylan’s south of the border outlawry “Goin’ to Acapulco,” to enriching the title track of Philly workhorses Dr. Dog’s Shame, Shame with his crooning pipes, James has established himself as perhaps the most sought after vocal contributor on the scene today. Amidst bellicose horns firing the LP’s opening salvo on “Victory Dance,” James quickly shows us why. As Bo Koster’s ominous keyboard lines seep through sparse lyrics, James warns that dominance is transient, purring rhetorically: “Power, don’t you know how it works? / Don’t you know that the meek, they shall inherit the earth?” Exposing the bloody realities of My Morning Jacket’s battle cry, celestial chanting devolves into a jarring onslaught of scathing distortion and frantic rhythmic punch.

Introspective title track “Circuital,” clocking in at a gargantuan 7:19, leads off with ambling electric guitar and hesitant, nostalgic vocals. Transitioning starkly, an elegantly swirling piano melds with visceral power chords, as James belts operatically “Spinning out, gracefully / Going nowhere, quickly / I’m older, day by day.” Progress is elusive when you spend your days on a hamster wheel “going nowhere,” but nonchalant My Morning Jacket doesn’t mind ending up “right back in the same place / that we started out.” Folksy ballad “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” finds James fully at peace, absolved of the anxiety rattling the world around him. Soaring violins complement his vertiginous voice, as he sings of eternal youth and the promise of rebirth.

Switching gears abruptly on “Outta My System,” My Morning Jacket hint that it’s better to have screwed up and gotten busted than never to have strayed from the path at all. Freewheeling, rambunctious “Holdin On To Black Metal” features “Two-Tone” Tommy Blankenship’s brooding bass, a serpentine horn section, and some of the best throwaway lines in rock: “Getting sustenance from Lucifer’s peach / Oh black metal it’s a fact in all your speech.”

Over the last couple of tracks, the album sputters with a pair of severely derivative love/loss ballads. Sluggish “Slow, Slow Song” and sappy “Movin Away” fail to tap James’ bravado, and leaving these tracks on the cutting room floor could have made for a tighter album.

Throughout the LP’s first two-thirds, My Morning Jacket deliver a fluid blend of smoky rock tunes, sentimental folk ditties, and crescendo-laden anthems. Much closer to Z than Evil Urges, My Morning Jacket proves that a leap back can sometimes be a step in the right direction, even if we end up “right back in the same place that we started out.”


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