My Morning Jacket’s new album opens with something like a mandolin riff (one of my roommates thinks it’s some sort of flamenco guitar) softly strummed under a distorted guitar. “Sittin’ here with me and mine, all wrapped up in a bottle of wine,” Jim James croons, like a young Neil Young. Then — bang bang — the drums come in. Next you think to yourself that this song is good, that this band is good, and that rock and roll is very good, especially when it’s played this well.
When country-music legend (and Harvard dropout) Gram Parsons died of a drug overdose, his friends ate his remaining hallucinogens, borrowed a hearse and stole his body from LAX, where it was about to be flown out. They drove to Parsons’ favorite hangout, Joshua Tree National Park, and burned his body in the desert.
When I listen to It Still Moves I can’t help but think of Gram Parsons, his fine friends, and what their car ride through the California night must’ve been like. Indeed My Morning Jacket effortlessly captures the druggy country rock of Gram Parsons — and the spirit of his druggy death. And while they also borrow heavily from the bar-band sound of country-rockers Little Feat (famous for “Dixie Chicken”), they manage to have a sound of their own. It’s easy to hear why the band gained a loyal following in both their hometown of Louisville, Ky., and New York City — their sound is firmly rooted in rock and roll’s past, but innovative and exciting.
At the center of My Morning Jacket is Jim James, who writes the songs and sings them — well. He sounds like The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, except that James’ voice is sweet and rich as opposed to grating. His band is more than competent, and is by far at its best when the well-constructed songs build into, as the band’s press release reads, “rock and roll blow outs.” The jam at the end of Dancefloors, for example, is accompanied by thunderous horns that sound like they were recorded in Memphis in 1963.
“I Will Sing to You,” the record’s longest song, has a much different climax. It starts off with echoed vocals floating over a Hammond organ, electric guitar and soft drumming, and slowly builds into an instrumental that rivals Pink Floyd in all their psychedelic glory.
The album’s best song is its opener, “Mahgeetah,” mentioned above. Here the band’s country roots shine through, and the vibe seems just as Kentuckian-back-porch, almost Jamaican, vibe. The album’s last track, “One in the Same,” is even chiller: “Snow glazed all the trees,” James sings over just an acoustic guitar, “My mother held me/ like a motorcycle, so warm/ we sang melody.”
It Still Moves is the band’s first album for a major label (it’s their third overall, besides a handful of EPs). If they keep making records this good, it’ll be far from their last.