My Morning Jacket & Creativity

August 5, 2012

Tonight, looking for a particular song in Youtube I bumped into My Morning Jacket’s Bermuda Highway. I was so impressed by the singer’s voice that I watched the video and listened to the track several times. What an amazing voice! It was Jim James’ remarkably powerful, yet intimately welcoming voice. My Morning Jacket has been a rising star in music since the band’s inception in 1998. They are a four-piece band from Louisville, KY, built solidly around the vocal and songwriting talent of group leader Jim James. “Their sound is lonesome, haunting, almost classic country at times, and that voice — James’ voice shares the same section of that old country highway with the familiar sounds of Neil Young, yet sounds right at home here in the world of independent American pop music, alongside contemporary singers like the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne and Galaxie 500’s Dean Wareham. Like Galaxie 500, My Morning Jacket weaves songs and sounds together perfectly — underneath the big open sky filled with bright stars of course — never allowing the heavy reverb (and the reverb is definitely heavy) to subtract anything from the visual lyrics, or from the simple beauty of the songs themselves.”

My Morning Jacket’s musical talents and the creativity they bring into our lives are in sharp contrast with the current state of the record industry. From a business perspective it’s both painful and exciting. Painful because it’s only half of what it used to be ten years ago. Exciting because whoever makes it out of this into whatever is next will be on top. From a creative perspective, it’s sad. Pop radio has been reduced to the equivalent of processed fast food. It’s all the same, just different faces on the package. There’s great music being made, but it’s not on the radio, and much of it is not selling the types of records it used to. In many ways it has to do with record companies not making as much money as they used to. Having money gave them the freedom to sign and develop so many more acts. Record companies could be “chefs” back them. Taking the time to prepare and cook dishes that stretched consumers palettes. Now because that risk is so great, they just serve fast food to make a profit and have joined in with the fashion industry to sell it dressed in fancy rags. Obviously, it is unhealthy artistically for the consumer. That mentality also bleeds down to creatives. They are striving creatively, but the most successful acts they’re trying to emulate are just fructose corn syrup. That’s why we freak the hell out when someone like Ryan Adams, Jack White, Adele or Academy Award-winning singer-songwriter Ryan Bingham come along. They are so rare these days. I watched talented people release records they can’t even get their mother to buy. Then I see much less talented people sell millions. But being successful doesn’t mean being the most talented. We are going to be talking about and discussing these troubling issues and the alternatives we may have.

Quote: Caleb Morairty

My Morning Jacket – Bermuda Highway

My Morning Jacket – Outta My System

Music video by My Morning Jacket performing Outta My System. (C) 2012 ATO Records, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

My Morning Jacket – Summer 2012 Tour

My Morning Jacket
The Kentucky rockers return with several opening acts, including Band of Horses, Trombone Shorty, Trampled By Turtles and Shabazz Palaces.

5/04 Memphis, TN – Beale Street Music Festival
5/05 New Orleans, LA – New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
7/13 Louisville, KY – Forecastle Festival
7/14 Louisville, KY – Forecastle Festival (performance)
7/15 Louisville, KY – Forecastle Festival
7/28 Newport, RI – Newport Folk Festival
8/03 Denver, CO – Red Rocks Amphitheatre^*% (Flobots.org)
8/04 Denver, CO – Red Rocks Amphitheatre^*% (Platteforum)
8/06 Kansas City , MO – Starlight Theatre*% (Operation Breakthrough)
8/07 Lincoln, NE – Pinewood Bowl Amphitheater*% (Community Corps)
8/08 St. Louis, MO – Peabody Opera House*% (Safe Connections)
8/10 Minneapolis, MN – Somerset Amphitheater+*% (Free Arts and The Current Public Radio)
8/12 Columbus, OH – LC Pavilion*% (Franklinton Gardens and Wexner Center For the Arts)
8/14 Detroit, MI – Meadow Brook*% (Do Foundation)
8/15 Toronto, ON – Echo Beach at Molson Canadian Amphitheatre*
8/17 Philadelphia, PA – Mann Center for the Performing Arts*% (Urban Blazers)
8/18 Washington, DC – Merriweather Post Pavilion*% (826DC)
8/19 Brooklyn, NY – Williamsburg Park#% (Sy’s Fund)
8/21 Pittsburgh, PA – Stage AE*% (Gateway To The Arts)
8/22 Chicago, IL – Pritzker Pavilion*% (Advanced Art Education Program at Gallery 37)
8/24 Atlanta, GA – Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre*% (West Atlanta Watershed Alliance)
8/25 Charlotte, NC – Time Warner Cable Uptown Amphitheater*% (Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation)
8/26 Raleigh, NC – Raleigh Amphitheater*% (Charlotte Tree Fund)

My Morning Jacket – Fleet Foxes Album

The Morning Jacket band members

My Morning Jacket has been a rising star in music since the band’s inception in 1998. Although their debut, The Tennessee Fire, was a landscape of spacious folk and a gorgeous slice of americana, as was the follow-up, At Dawn, My Morning Jacket broke through to a wide audience with 2003’s It Still Moves. The album was coated in a beer batter of southern rock – fried with bits of sweet, lush vocals that carried their previous work. Then came 2004’s Acoustic Citsuoca: Live at the Startime Pavilion, a live EP of a Jim James solo performance. Merely five songs, Acoustic Citsuoca solidified the reason why My Morning Jacket was so appealing – not their southern rock rumbles, psychedelic ramblings, or roomy, melodic ripples, but Jim James’ remarkably powerful, yet intimately welcoming voice. In 2006, the band released Z, an inspiring mélange of folk, rock, R&B, blues, and pop music. Z was a heartfelt speech, a call to arms – it was a statement. It showed the band experimenting with sounds that distinguished them from every other rock band, including My Morning Jacket itself. But, more importantly, in all of its exploration, Z kept on track, keeping Jim James’ vocals at the head of the pack. The album catapulted My Morning Jacket to headlining status, finding mainstream success, but maintaining its jam band-type fanbase. Now we reach 2008 and face Evil Urges, the band’s fifth full-length and, unfortunately, the exploration of Z has led My Morning Jacket over a cliff. But, lucky for us, we have Fleet Foxes.

There is certainly something to be admired about Evil Urges. Again, it is a bold statement in music, blending the flair of southern rock with a synthetic, R&B panache, but is overall just too audacious. Despite the intriguing influences that pop up throughout the album, anywhere from Prince to Faith No More, Evil Urges fails to highlight My Morning Jacket’s best attribute, which is Jim James voice. Even in songs that slip back into My Morning Jacket’s signature southern sound, such as “Thank You Too” and “Two Halves,” James’ voice comes off weak. And, although the James has never been known for his lyrical wit, the lyrics in Evil Urges fall very flat. “I believe in a perfect world you’d rule your own universe. The only company you’d need would be in your brain.”

Fortunately, Sub Pop released Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut album, which takes the best parts of My Morning Jacket’s catalog, laces it with Beach Boys harmonies, and infuses it with the urgent, yet dreary sound of Fleetwood Mac. Fleet Foxes seems to be the album that My Morning Jacket would progress towards, one that is vocally robust and musically dusty. Robin Pecknold’s lead vocals even resemble Jim James’. The backing vocal harmonies emphasize the strength of Pecknold’s voice and the touches of reverb emulate the brawn of a southern gospel choir. In fact, “White Winter Hymnal” sounds like the chant of a Southern Baptist choir singing at the bank of a rushing river, watching a minister baptize a newborn in the river. The album treads the waters of southern folk-rock on a ship made from the sunshine pop of the Beach Boys and The Zombies. It is a sandy beach along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is the summit of the Smoky Mountains breaking the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

If it is the fear of being pigeonholed that forced Jim James to make Evil Urges, such fear led him into an inescapable corner. Rather than running from his southern inclinations, James should have embraced them, as Fleet Foxes did. Fleet Foxes is the album that My Morning Jacket fans wanted to hear, if not deserved to hear, as it accents Pecknold’s gorgeous voice and maintains a folk quality that is as pleasing as Neil Young’s Harvest. Sadly, My Morning Jacket’s exploration on Evil Urges is similar to Neil Young’s exploration on Trans, in which he attempted to navigate the murky waters of innovation, but got lost in the fog. “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Part 2” is the album’s only upside as it appropriately accents Jim James’ voice along a forceful musical backdrop. But, if you’re looking for a full remedy, Fleet Foxes is your answer.

By Better Propaganda
Caleb Morairty