The moniker “jam-band” carries with it expectations of a brand of music exemplified by the San Francisco groove of The Grateful Dead and other great rockers of the 1960s and ‘70s. Louisville’s My Morning Jacket is strongly influenced by the southern guitar revelry of The Allman Brothers and Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s prairie passion. On their last studio album the band explored a more psychedelic edge that took inspiration from Pink Floyd. So where to next for this talented group of musicians you might ask?
Prince and modern R&B is probably not the first thought that would leap to your mind nor would the pre-fab production qualities of pop music of the 1980s, but that is the area the band wanders into on the new release Evil Urges. Before you panic rest assured the band’s songs are still built around fantastic guitar crescendo jams and Jim James distinctive tenor crooning. Evil Urges opens with the title track and it sets the tone for the record which seems to be don’t expect the same old same old. There’s a lot of Grateful Dead influence here but think Shake Down Street. That’s right; there is a touch of disco to this track. Track 2”Touch Me I’m Going To Scream, Pt 1” sounds like an escapee from the latest Rilo Kiley disc with synthesized strings and programmed drums and shiny pop production.
The band really cuts loose of expectations with the surprising “Highly Suspicious” an all-out tribute to Prince. Bizarre lyrics with vague sexual references (“Wasting time home alone dotting your “i’s”/peanut butter pudding surprise”) and Jim James in full falsetto backed by testosterone-heavy chanting, this song is unlike anything the band has done before. The band contrasts this with the follow up track “I’m Amazed,” a song as vintage MMJ as they come.
“Thank You” is a gorgeous love song that is trimmed with strings that reach back to the tradition of 1970’s R&B arrangements. “Sec. Walk” throws yet another influence into the mix. Strains of Levon Helm and The Band creep to the surface and are joined again by a falsetto chorus to match the song’s steel pedal undercurrent. “Librarian” offers a rare stripped down acoustic performance that allows for Jim James to tell a story of sweet seduction.
My Morning Jacket is an evolving unit that is open to new ideas even if they come from older sources. Evil Urgeswill challenge fans who are content to stay with the band’s original sound. It will be interesting to watch for the reaction to the variable sounds on the album. Personally I enjoyed picking up the musical clues and running with them but I’ll always champion a band that takes chances.
WYEP celebrates the very best of 2008 during December by revisiting albums from our top 10 of the year. Pick up your copy of My Morning Jacket's Evil Urges by going to wyep.org/store.