My Morning Jacket Evil Urges

[ATO; 2008]

Styles: Colorado grooves, ragged gospel, rock & roll hullabaloo
Others: Allen Toussaint, The Band, Sam Cooke

We’re thrown into a world of prominent foregrounds and backgrounds; the f/stop captures everything: shadowy architecture, inconspicuous chandeliers and balconies, clockworks, and dangling Christmas lights mistaken for constellations. Gaping apertures like golden wreaths. My Morning Jacket have developed into something resembling a scene from Gargantua & Pantagruel, where “Others have been so driven out of their minds, have become so maniacal, that of mourning and grief, they have drowned themselves, hanged themselves, or stabbed themselves, unable to bear their shame.” It’s as if Rabelais were residing in Appalachia or the Piedmont.

Picking up where Z skidded off, Evil Urges is like a carnival, like life (after all, My Morning Jacket is in cahoots with The Band), like cigarrons, discarded cigarettes dredged from the Cimarron River, and cinnamon sticks in a pot of boiled apples on the stove. Like “Aluminum Park,” a track that arrives after the album has already assailed the listener, it’s part jamboree, part hootenanny.

From the get go, “Evil Urges”: the only effective way to suppress evil urges is in a higher octave, so Jim James complies. It marks the departure, lets you know this ferris wheel has been oiled with elbow grease. “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2” sound like Yoshimi battling pink robots, this time in a wheat field in Kentucky. It’s an RKO Radio Picture. UFO mumbo jumbo. Otherworldly hullabaloo.

“Highly Suspicious” is Prince funk. Our boys have been baptized, or, at least, have cannonballed into Lake Minnetonka. It’s another stunning and shocking showing. But with “I’m Amazed,” the band sounds as we remember. The song boasts a pacific riff like Loretta Lynn’s “Portland, Oregon.” “I’m amazed by a divided nation.” In a post-9/11 America, protest in song can only be done with this type of brevity. “Thank You Too” is as sincere as the gospel of Sam Cooke: God coming through the human. “Sec Walkin’” can be compared to Rick Danko getting waterboarded in reverb harmonies — almost elevator music, but the elevator operator is colored impressed. A stew, says James, of soul and country: something Allen Toussaint would tousle and toss together in his Gert Town shotgun house. The wallop doesn’t end here.

“Two Halves” is concerned with aging (maybe a Saturn return). Sung with Billy Bragg inflection and sentiment, it’s cheeky like a late-’50s pop single with some sheen. “Librarian” is a bookish fetish met with “Nights in White Satin.” Jim James -- not just here, but elsewhere on the album as well -- is still in Dylan whiteface, singing of peace and glory. It’s worth beholding.

Jim James recently spoke to NPR about defining his personal religion. He nestles into the belief of being “in the zone.” His God is the same God that manifests itself in the shape of a sudden and enormous Central American sinkhole that is the vermilion rim on a basketball hoop. God, being the feeling rising in your gorge — something gastrointestinal, something anxious to purge, to urge. The band seems desultory in their exploration of American inspiration, willing to sacrifice a cohesive sound in favor of aberrations. We the people accept this. We celebrate it.

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