in Retrospecticus

Retrospecticus: My Morning Jacket

Seeing as though My Morning Jacket have seemed to just be getting better and better ever since their debut album, I’m very excited for their new album Evil Urges, which drops this Tuesday. Now here’s a look back at their discography so far.

The Tennessee Fire (1999)
My Morning Jacket’s debut does a pretty good job of establishing what would define MMJ’s early sound: Alt-Country/Southern Rock complemented by Jim James’s mesmerizing voice drenched in reverb. It definitely has a much more subdued sound, with a good dose of acoustic guitars being prominent on The Tennessee Fire. James’s songs are simple but enjoyable on this album, even if they don’t have the amount of energy that would come to define their more recent work. It’s ultimately a solid debut, but you certainly wouldn’t think of My Morning Jacket as anything particularly special after listening to this album.
Favorite Tracks: Heartbreakin’ Man, Evelyn Is Not Real, I Think I’m Going to Hell

At Dawn (2001)

My Morning Jacket’s sophomore effort finds them building on the sound of their first album with a much more lush and expansive sound. It definitely has more of a feel of being a band recording than just a Jim James solo effort, which is essentially what the first MMJ album is. However, it’s still James’s voice and songwriting that drives the record. At Dawn has a number of my favorite MMJ tracks from their earlier years, and the album really shows Jim James starting to grow as a songwriter. However, at 74 minutes I would say it’s a lot longer than it needs to be, which is a problem for me on all three of MMJ’s first three albums, and there’s at least 2 or 3 songs on At Dawn that I could’ve done without. It’s nice to see that they’ve begun to keep their albums at under an hour long on Z and Evil Urges.
Favorite Tracks: Low Down, X-Mas Curtain, Just Because I Do

It Still Moves (2003)

My Morning Jacket’s third album shows them taking on a less dissonant, more polished sound. Also, with songs like “Dancefloors” and “One Big Holiday”, it rocks a lot more than their previous efforts. I think this probably would have do at least partly with the addition of drummer Patrick Hallahan, whose Bonham-like drumming gives a kick to MMJ’s sound that wasn’t present on their previous albums. It also shows them taking on more of a jam band mentality with longer cuts like “I Will Sing You Songs” and “Steam Engine”. The more straightforward classic rock sound of It Still Moves probably makes it MMJ’s most accessible album, however at time this makes the album feel a little bland. It Still Moves shows that My Morning Jacket still weren’t ready to tamper too much with their signature sound, but Jim James shows that his abilities as a songwriter just continue to blossom.
Favorite Tracks: Dancefloors, One Big Holiday, Run Thru

Z (2005)

Z saw My Morning Jacket taking their already likeable sound in many different directions in what is without a doubt their best album to date. They almost sound like an entirely different band on this album and in some aspects they are, guitarist Carl Broemel and keyboard player Bo Koster were added to the band after two members quit prior to the recording of Z. Also, Z’s unique sound can also be attributed to the presence of accomplished producer John Leckie (Jim James produced MMJ’s first three albums). There’s more of a heavy alternative rock sound to songs like “What a Wonderful Man” and “Anytime”. They also mix in Prog-Rock on “Wordless Chorus” and “Dondante”, and then there’s “Off The Record”, which sounds like reggae crossed with the Hawaii Five-O theme song. Z seems as if it’s only the beginning of My Morning Jacket’s exploration of their new sound, so I’m very excited to see what this band will do in the future.
Favorite Tracks: What a Wonderful Man, Off the Record, Anytime

Okonokos (2006)

Over the years, My Morning Jacket’s reputation as a live band has continued to grow, and Okonokos, their first live album, does a pretty good job of showcasing the band’s live sound. The album was recorded on their Z tour, and all of the songs off of Z are just as good live as they are on the album. However, what really makes this album interesting is hearing many of their earlier songs like “One Big Holiday” or “Lowdown” blown up to gigantic arena-rock size proportions. The band really sounds tight throughout the whole performance, although I guess the only minor problem is that a lot of the band’s earlier songs that are performed aren’t quite at the level as My Morning Jacket’s more recent material.
Favorite Tracks: One Big Holiday, Lay Low, Mahgeetah
Evil Urges (2008)

I’ve already listened to most of their new album, seeing as though they posted every song off of it on their myspace. They definitely continue to explore many new sounds on it, especially on my favorite track on the album so far, “Highly Suspicious”. It’ll definitely take me a few more listens to really absorb it, so I’ll probably have a review of Evil Urges by the end of the week.