My Morning Jacket "The Waterfall"

Big life transitions inspire new musical directions for My Morning Jacket.

Jim James, lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist for My Morning Jacket, has been playing at the edges of mysticism and spirituality for a while. His 2013 solo album Regions of Light and Sound of God, inspired by Lynd Ward’s woodcut novel “God’s Man,” dove deeper into this sphere, but like Lynd’s wordless book, James language is not directly religious. It’s not surprising that his return to the band finds him writing about life in the transitional realm.

For its first album in four years, MMJ convened at a hilltop studio situated high about the Pacific Ocean in Stinton Beach, once the home of Jerry Garcia. The gorgeous environs, empty beaches and star-filled skies, inspired James’ writing, but so did the pain of a herniated disc brought on by too much touring and partying, and the stress of a broken relationship. These hardships inspire the album’s title with the waterfall working as metaphor for the onslaught of transition both forced and chosen. James lyrics hinge on the cyclical nature of life and can be nebulous in description. At other times his bluntness can be stunning, as on “Get the Point.”

“I hope you get the point/The thrill is gone, gone, gone…the love is done.” There are positive buoys in his ocean of change. “Believe,” begins reflectively and grows to crescendo as James moves from struggle to hope.

Tucker Martine co-produces with James, and it’s apparent the band has chosen a new direction. There is more synthesizer and less of the reverb associated with MMJ’s earlier material. “Compound Fracture” drives home that point with its 1980’s rock atmosphere. Songs were created through a process of stitching unfinished pieces together until the experiment produced results. Songs stretch into meandering jams and take unpredictable turns. James’ vocals remain a highlight of the recording as he soars from mid-range tenor to high falsetto.

James’ physical set-back created a silver-lining as music flowed from the couch-ridden writer. The sessions produced two albums worth of material, the second to be released tentatively in 2016.

My Morning Jacket will play Stage AE on June 4th.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)