My Morning Jacket Z

[ATO; 2005]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: indie pop, indie rock, alt country
Others: Mercury Rev, Luna, Flaming Lips, Wilco

Classic rock is the new face of indie rock. It doesn't matter if it's the psychedelic-inspired rock of Dungen, the skronk and pop of Wilco, or the southern rock of My Morning Jacket””classic rock, in its most generic meaning, is making a huge comeback. All we need now are the Kiss make-up, the expensive pyrotechnics, and Rick Nielsen novelty guitars. However, Z doesn't rely on fancy get-ups and cheap tricks. My Morning Jacket refuse to be molded into the next southern rock saviors, and the band's fourth full-length album moves farther away from traditional chops and into some uncharted territory for a band who records in silos on Kentucky farms.

What you can expect is what makes My Morning Jacket tried and true: bigger-than-life lyrics, classic rock swagger, and the need to move forward. Popping in the CD and listening to the opener "Wordless Chorus," a dose of what's to come is delivered soft and easy. The band has subscribed to the Mary Poppins philosophy: a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. The track is all hushed guitars and whirling melody with a carnival beat””if only songs like this were played while riding the 4-H Merry-Go-Round. And if it makes a difference to you, the chorus actually is wordless.

Much of the hushed and restrained guitar work remains, as the band switches gears quickly into "It Beats for You." Holding in the urge to unleash the flying V and the headbanging, My Morning Jacket focus on the little things that make a song feel important. The keys and drums are pushed to the front of the mix, creating a quiet tune. The track holds back a lot, but it makes for a surprising little rocker that again relies on melody in lieu of big riffs””these are left to "Gideon," which unleashes loud guitars and Jim James' impassioned wail, though never abandoning the focus on a lighter tune.

Of course, My Morning Jacket wouldn't be My Morning Jacket if they didn't turn up the amps and let the long hair fly. And there are plenty of straight-shooters to be found. "Anytime," "What A Wonderful Man," and "Lay Low" all play off the band's storied strengths. The classic rock riffage is brought back to the front of the mix without sacrificing the strides in recording and experimentation My Morning Jacket have brought to the fold. Consider Z a bridge between the days of At Dawn and It Still Moves and the future of My Morning Jacket. Z isn't the final destination, it's the truck stop at the fork in the road. You rest, fill up the tank, eat some home cooking, and hear the stories of the open road from those who live their lives on 18 wheels.

1. Wordless Chorus
2. It Beats for You
3. Gideon
4. What a Wonderful Man
5. Off the Record
6. Into the Woods
7. Anytime
8. Lay Low
9. Knot Comes Loose
10. Dondante