So I gotta start this out by saying I'm a bit biased in this assessment. The band is from Louisville, I'm from Louisville....ya stick by your family. That's not all my opinion is based on though. My Morning Jacket is one of those bands that almost begs to be "grown" with. Their sound has evolved over the years and they always seem to keep their audience guessing as to what direction they will head next. There are not many bands, including my all-time favorites, such as The Replacements, The Beatles, and Pink Floyd, in which I have trouble finding a couple of songs that I just don't like. MMJ (as I shall call them for the remainder of this blog) just never seems to mail it in. Every song is unique and they don't seem to fit a specific genre.
MMJ's first album was released in 1999, called The Tennessee Fire. That album, along with their second record, At Dawn, were given nice reviews by AllMusic.com and Pitchfork as well as others. The sound was odd and certainly different as the band used heavy reverberation and mixed tempos within many of the songs, drawing you in slowly and then punching a hole in your eardrum. One of my favorites is called "The Way That He Sings" from the At Dawn album.
Here is a great live version performed on David Letterman
The album It Still Moves was their first major label release and it opened them up to a whole new world, as the band won critical acclaim and toured seemingly non-stop to build a rabid following. It Still Moves is a fantastic piece of music that is varied in style and can at times remind the listener of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, as well as Metallica and Pink Floyd. The song "Run Thru" is another personal favorite of mine and is ranked as one of the top 100 Great Guitar Songs by Rolling Stone magazine!
If It Still Moves was their coming out party, then their next album Z would make them darlings of the critics and again show that they are not one trick ponies who just stick with a sound. Z is just a bit more pop-ish than their previous albums, but I wouldn't call it MMJ going soft. They were refining their sound and exploring different instruments and sounds. Metacritic, who uses an aggregate score of album reviews, ranked Z as the second best album of 2005 and Pitchfork Media ranked the record at 146 of the top 200 albums of the 2000's. One of the best songs off of an album full of them (Off The Record), also features a cool video.
Z seemed like a tough act to follow, but somehow, the band just keeps making great record after great record. Evil Urges was released in 2008 and stripped away much of the bands earlier sound and was an attempt to create a record that sounded more like MMJ as a live act, as opposed to the studio touches that highlighted previous records. 2008 was a big year for the band. They appeared on Saturday Night Live, received a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Rock Album, and played a legendary 3-hour live set at the Bonnaroo music festival that featured 35 songs, with help from Kirk Hammett of Metallica and comedian Zach Galifianakis. Evil Urges was ranked on no fewer than 5 lists for one of the top 20 albums of 2008, including a ranking of #4 from Rolling Stone Magazine.
Here is yet another fantastic song. I give you "I'm Amazed", one of a handful of great tunes off of Evil Urges.
Their latest release is called Circuital and once again, the band took it's sound to a different place. Not as easily accessible as previous albums, this one is a "sitter", meaning you need to listen to it a few times and not expect the tunes to just grab you in the way many pop tunes do. This record will get better with each listen, until you have these tunes stuck in your head....."holdin' on to black metal"....Oh, Yeah!! The album debuted at #5 on the Billboard Top 200 and once again the band received a Grammy nomination.
I have to say this about MMJ; they are a great live band. As good as their albums are and as much enjoyment that I can get out of those with the headphones on, there is nothing like experiencing them live. They will flat wear an audience out. They are the type of band that doesn't let the audience get restless. They pour it all out when they are on stage. I've seen them several times and not once can I say that they were anything other than great. Years back, before they started playing to sold out festivals, I saw them open for Joe Henry at Phoenix Hill Tavern on Bardstown Road. I had no idea who they were, but I wouldn't forget them. In addition to all the albums and touring, the band has appeared as themselves on the television show "American Dad", toured with Neil Young, have been featured on Austin City Limits a couple of times, and were a part of the VH1 Storyteller series in 2011. If you love rock n roll and don't know who this band is, you need to do some You Tube searching and get with it! If I had to recommend an album for a mainstream music fan to introduce themselves to the band with, I think I'd choose Z or Evil Urges.
Oh, and I can't let this blog end without showing the clip of My Morning Jacket on American Dad.
And in case you were wondering if stardom has went to lead singer Jim James' head, it hasn't. He puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else!!!
Why're we so loud when we say it wont happen to us?
Why does my mind blow to bits every time they play that song?
It's just the way that he sings,
Not the words that he says, or the band.
I'm in love with this soul, it's a meaning that I understand.
"The Way That He Sings"---My Morning Jacket