My Morning Jacket
It will probably be a little harder for me to be objective about this release than with some others I've reviewed, simply because I had the pleasure of opening for My Morning Jacket on their recent tour with the group that I'm in. How the heck could I talk trash about a bunch of nice guys who just go out and play the rock music (well, I might add)? Fortunately, the five-piece band has made it a little easier on me by creating a great (if somewhat overlong) third album. After releasing a couple discs on the smaller Darla label and relentless touring, My Morning Jacket has made a jump to the majors with It Still Moves, on the Dave Matthews subsidiary ATO of RCA.
When you get into big label speak, wading through acronyms is just one of the pitfalls, and the other is that they may just make you change up your sound to fit their needs. Fortunately, like the major-label debut of Modest Mouse a couple years ago (the excellent The Moon And Antarctica), there are only subtle tweaks to the formula, and nothing so drastic that it will alter the perception of anyone who has listened to the group for their past several releases.
The biggest thing is that most of the trademark reverb is still there. Most likely, the group didn't record this one inside an empty grain silo (or if they did, it was with a lot fancier equipment), but lead singer Jim James' voice still plays out like he's inside an empty auditorium. The disc opens with the stunning, shimmering guitars of "Mahgeetah," before following up with the dirty honky-tonk versus southern fried rock of "Dancefloors." The extended guitar jams on each track make them veer close to jam band status a couple times, but they pull back just in time. Luckily, they follow things up with the stripped-down "Golden," what is one of my favorite tracks on the entire album. One of the least-roaring tracks on the disc, the introspective, lonely vocals of James are highlighted even more by the simple arrangement.
The middle of the album just keeps things rolling with a batch of great songs. "One Big Holiday" opens with skittering high-hat and a pretty guitar plucking before busting into a huge main section with James hitting some of the best vocals on the release. "I Will Sing You Songs" is the nearly 10-minute epic middle-piece, a swaying, woozy lullaby that moves the vocals almost to ethereal level. The only song under 4 minutes on the entire release even manages to pack so much of what is great about the band into a short period of time as jangling guitars strum over warm synths and multiple vocal parts by James.
If I had to nitpick, I'd say that the weakest section of the album arrives on tracks 7 and 8 ("Easy Morning Rebel" and "Run Thru"). It's during these tracks that the group lets their southern-rock roots show through in a big way, and although the horns are a nice touch on the former track, they sort of fall off into a late-70s generic rock sound, weaving through wanky guitar solos and less-than-stellar melodies. As mentioned above, the long album probably could have been trimmed a smidge and made a little bit more solid, but My Morning Jacket has never been known for their brevity (even last years Chocolate And Ice EP ran almost 40 minutes). When they're on, though, they're on, and although this album doesn't quite reach the heights that their earlier At Dawn does, it's still a great disc from a young group who will be making even more noise in the future.