Rhythm & Views

My Morning Jacket

Need proof that My Morning Jacket's good ol' boy charm can twist even the most inhumane imagery into melodic gold? Consider "Into the Woods" from their phenomenal new album Z, where Jim James' golden vocals (over creepy circus organ and eerie atmospherics) pass off--with Southern aplomb--the lines: "A kitten on fire / a baby in a blender / both sound as sweet / as a night of surrender."

As you can probably tell, this isn't your grandpappy's My Morning Jacket album. The band lost and replaced its guitarist and keyboardist and added producer John Leckie (who has worked on aural oddities like Dark Side of the Moon), and the sound is richer, weirder and tighter than ever before.

Richer? The added electronic layers (mostly thanks to new ivory man Bo Koster) bolster tracks like the bouncy "Wordless Chorus" and floating "Gideon." Weirder? In addition to the bizarro tracks like "Into the Woods," the band successfully dabbles in a hodgepodge of genres, from goofy piano-rock ("What a Wonderful Man") to surf guitar-boogie ("Off the Record"). Tighter? In 2002, My Morning Jacket released Chocolate and Ice, a six-song, 40-minute EP (including the 24-minute "Cobra"). In contrast, Z is a swift, 10-song medley that clocks in at less than 50 minutes.

From its mellower moments, like the backporch country jam of "Lay Low," to its tributes to Southern rock, like the twin guitar assault of "Anytime," Z is a staggering achievement that ranks among the year's best.