My Morning Jacket listeners come in two basic shades: those who’ve seen the light, and those skeptically milling about still waiting for their epiphany. It Still Moves, the band’s sprawling new major-label debut, won’t do much to alter either party’s viewpoint. For those who worried a major label (RCA/ATO) might fundamentally alter the independent spirit of singer-songwriter Jim James and his cohorts, relax: The band’s formula remains intact—a country-rock base with elements of Memphis soul, classic ’70s rock and neo-psychedelic sounds, all drenched in salubrious washes of reverb. Besides, nothing says complete artistic freedom like 12 songs that average six minutes in length, many of which were recorded in a grain silo to give the reverb more reverb.
But more My Morning Jacket won’t necessarily win more converts. The main characteristic of My Morning Jacket songs—aside from the reverb—is that there are often no main characteristics. Styles mix wantonly, songs meander but never go quite where you expect them to. That’s both the group’s appeal and its Achilles heel, depending on your inclinations. For some, it’s bliss; for others, it’s a lack of focus.
On the new disc, for instance, what begins as an acoustic-driven folk song (“Magheeta”) morphs into a hard-rocking power ballad; a funkified homage to R&B clubs (“Dance Floors”) becomes an Exile on Main Street-era block party, powered by a propulsive horn section straight out of “Tumbling Dice”; and the minor-key melancholia of Neil Young’s Crazy Horse epics (think “Cortez the Killer”) forms the backbone of “Run Through” until it mutates at the chorus into the early ’80s Manchester sound reminiscent of New Order. In other words—buckle up; it’s that kind of ride. Sometimes you’re there; sometimes you’re totally lost.
That’s been the modus operandi of My Morning Jacket since the band emerged from its farmhouse studio outside of Louisville, Ky. five years ago; either no one bothered to tell them what the rules and conventions were, or they just weren’t paying attention in Songwriting 101 that day. No matter; their vision has been given free reign, and their transcendent live shows won them legions of rabid converts.
But now it’s reached critical mass. Hard-working independent band with vision has now met marketing machine that will hawk those attributes, theoretically, anyway. The question then becomes, “Can My Morning Jacket deliver the goods?” With It Still Moves, the answer appears to be “Yes—if you like that sort of thing.”