My Morning Jacket are a blessed example of a genre derided by its bourbon-slick riffery and lyrical down-on-the-farm, blacked-out-in-a-bar banalities. My Morning Jacket, from Louisville, Kentucky (as they are want to remind us), produced two albums of spiritual but not preachy country-rock, in their debut The Tennessee Fire and its flawless follow-up At Dawn which earned the band respect from all quarters.
Their third album, It Still Moves, sold on the back of the fret-tapping “One Big Holiday” was the point where success and excess merged. Too many lumbering tunes that turned the band into a prog-country nod-back-and-forth type band. Probably something better listened to while practicing air guitar stoned.
Later albums Z and Evil Urges revealed a band stepping outside of their safety zone, embracing technology and taking a chance in all directions. At a solo show in London prior to the release of Z, songwriter/vocalist Jim James played several tracks entirely on a Omnichord which at the time raised more than a few eyebrows from the faithful. But when My Morning Jacket’s back catalogue is stacked up, it shows a band (for better or worse) avoiding getting too comfortable in one position. You only have to listen to “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream” from Evil Urges to realise how far they’re travelled from the pin-drop beauty of “I Will Be There When You Die”. All of this brings us to Circuital.
A concise (for MMJ standards) 10 track album, Circuital is loaded with classic My Morning Jacket moments, the title track being no exception. Awash with acoustic guitars and a bouncing piano riff and stabs of electric guitar, “Circuital” hits an instant groove as the band settle in for the 7 minute ride, in what has to be their most defining statement yet. The slick R&B of “The Day is Coming” sounds like MMJ taking on The Commodores, while the tender acoustic ballad “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” oozes mid-70’s Rod Stewart circa A Night On The Town. A little heart and a lot of soul has always been Jim James’ ace in the hole and “Wonderful” shows you why.
“They told me not to smoke drugs, but I wouldn’t listen/Never thought I’d get caught and wind up in prison”. The light-hearted public service announcement “Outta My System” has James counting his blessings he didn’t make a career out of being bad boy, just a big bad rock n’ roller. It’s odd to see a little humour injected into their music (of which I find the funk n’ children’s chorus of “Holdin On To Black Metal” a riot). Circuital is by no means a perfect record. Some tracks fail and other limp to the finish and you’ll meet them toward the end, but the album works in being as true to My Morning Jacket as it gets. They’ve trimmed the fat and kept the music as focussed as possible. It’s not going to make new friends, but it’ll definitely keep old ones back for one more round.