Saturday, November 26, 2005


Jacket's Dreamcoat

My Morning Jacket's Dreamcoat

by Wayne Robins

How much did I want to like My Morning Jacket's 2005 album, "Z" (ATO/RCA)? Last night I dreamed that a tech guy came over to my house and showed that by adjusting the table position of the external speakers on my computer desk that "Z" would blossom into something spectacular.
So of course, this morning I placed the speakers in various ways and gave "Z" another listen. Then I realized what my dream was telling me is that this is a band with all the right tools deployed in all the wrong ways.

In Jim James, it has a charismatic lead singer who also appears dedicated to the craft of songwriting. The band has always played on a kind of eccentric mid-South rootsiness that should be immensely appealing. But it doesn't quite translate to the songs, or the studio performances. Some find "Z" spiritual, but I find fussily cerebral.

The songs on "Z" are like ships in a bottle: Beautiful miniatures that just won't float. The string arrangement on "It Beats 4 U" establishes a sense of remoteness rather than intimacy; on "Into the Woods," James' voice gets lost in the foliage. "Off the Record" is bubblegum reggae with a surf guitar ("Hawaii 5-0" theme) bridge, while the aptly titled "Wordless Chorus" sets the tone of pretty, unfocused aloofness that suffuses the album. I've intentionally described tracks out of order here: Actually, I came to a conclusion similar to that of Stephen M. Deusner, who writes in Pitchfork that "Z" seems constructed as a two-sided vinyl album.

Deusner likes the record considerably more than I do. The wide awake verdict here is that only on the beautifully unfolding "Lay Low" and the classic rock showpiece "Dondante" (something like what Traffic might have sounded like with Eric Clapton on guitar) shows the potential that also fell short in MMJ's previous records.

(c) Wayne Robins 2005

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