My Morning Jacket

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Hailed as the new heroes of the alt-country scene when they debuted in the late 1990s, My Morning Jacket matured into an eclectic, sonically diverse ensemble whose work encompassed indie rock, psychedelia, folk, blues, and even dashes of funk and prog rock. Led by songwriter and lead vocalist Jim James, My Morning Jacket’s music is most strongly rooted in Americana, with Neil Young, the Band, and the psychedelic end of the ’60s folk scene as obvious reference points. However, James and his bandmates have shown a frequent interest in pushing their boundaries, adding new flavors over the course of their career while holding on to the strong melodies and impassioned vocals that were their calling cards. The reverb-enhanced indie folk of their debut album, 1999′s The Tennessee Fire, set the groundwork for MMJ’s music, and their major-label debut, 2003′s It Still Moves, added increasingly precise production and a more pop-oriented melodic approach while holding on to their rootsy frameworks. 2008′s Evil Urges saw MMJ experimenting with prog rock and funk elements as they continued to challenge the expectations of their audience, and 2011′s Circuital was even more ambitious, with the songs running the gamut from hard rock into fully orchestrated pop. After a pair of especially elaborate and eclectic albums (2015′s The Waterfall and 2020′s The Waterfall II), the band returned to more organic and personal form on 2021′s My Morning Jacket.
My Morning Jacket’s de facto leader is vocalist/guitarist Jim James (birth name James Olliges; occasional pseudonym Yim Yames), who founded the band in 1998 alongside his cousin Johnny Quaid (guitar), Tom Blankenship (bass), and J. Glenn (drums). Headquartered in James’ hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, the group released its debut on Darla Records in 1999, with keyboardist Danny Cash joining the lineup one year later. Although The Tennessee Fire was only modestly popular in the U.S., it became a genuine hit overseas, particularly in the Netherlands. My Morning Jacket responded by launching a tour in Europe, where they were featured in a Dutch documentary film and received accolades from the Dutch music press. A Christmas EP was released in 2000, but it was My Morning Jacket’s follow-up effort — 2001′s At Dawn — that helped expand their audience at home. Jim James recorded his vocals in a grain silo, and the resulting reverb-heavy sound became a hallmark of the band’s early work. After the album’s stateside release, James’ best friend from childhood, Patrick Hallahan, was recruited as the band’s new drummer.
My Morning Jacket maintained a grueling schedule throughout the early 2000s, hitting the road with such acts as Guided by Voices, Doves, and the Foo Fighters. They also made the jump to a major label (RCA/ATO Records) for the 2003 release of It Still Moves, one of their highest-praised albums yet. Quaid and Cash announced their departure in January 2004 (keyboardist Bo Koster and guitarist Carl Broemel joined in their place), and the group continued to tour as a unified five-piece. Produced by John Leckie, 2005′s Z did away with the heavy reverb that blanketed the band’s earlier efforts, while the addition of synthesizers and reggae textures introduced audiences to My Morning Jacket’s experimental side. Tracks from Z also appeared on Okonokos, a live album released in 2006.
Arriving in June 2008, Evil Urges showcased James’ expanding vocal range, his bandmates’ fascination with Prince, and My Morning Jacket’s eagerness to challenge the boundaries of alternative country-rock. After touring in support of the album, the bandmates spent several years pursuing their own projects, with Jim James joining the indie supergroup Monsters of Folk and Carl Broemel releasing a solo album. They reconvened for 2011′s Circuital, recording the album in a local church’s gymnasium and revisiting the quirky, eclectic sound that fueled their two previous albums. In the summer of 2013, My Morning Jacket hit the road as part of the Americanarama Festival of Music, a touring event in which they shared the bill with Bob Dylan and Wilco. In 2014, they booked time at Panoramic House Studios in Stinson Beach, California to begin work on a new album, aiming for a new spontaneity in their songwriting and embracing the mood of Northern California. The result, The Waterfall, was released in the spring of 2015. During the sessions, My Morning Jacket recorded enough material for two albums, but the leftover songs stayed in the vault until July 2020, when they debuted The Waterfall II in digital form, with CD and vinyl editions following in August. During the five-year gap between the two releases, My Morning Jacket was largely on hiatus, as Jim James and Carl Broemel released solo albums, Bo Koster toured as part of Roger Waters’ road band, and several members performed with Ray LaMontagne’s band. A run of four shows in 2019 inspired the band to record new music, and they booked studio time with James serving as engineer to avoid outside interference and influence. The resulting album, My Morning Jacket, was issued by ATO in October 2021.
In 2022, the band inaugurated a series of concert albums drawn from their archives, released first in vinyl-only editions and later made available on streaming services. The first, MMJ Live, Vol. 1: Live 2015, arrived in June 2022 and collected material recorded during their tour in support of The Waterfall. MMJ Live, Vol. 2: Chicago 2021, which followed in October 2022, documented a November 2021 performance at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre. The same year, MMJ also released a limited-edition EP, Live from RCA Studio A, featuring a solo acoustic performance by Jim James of songs from the My Morning Jacket LP, recorded at Nashville’s fabled RCA Studios. ~ Andrew Leahey & Mark Deming