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My Morning Jacket – At Dawn Darla Records 2001

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Ok, this may not be a new cd per se, but it is a band that I have recently been turned on to and the most recent band to sign on Dave Matthew’s ATO label. Please don’t let this turn you off to these guys. I promise you this, to judge them by their new affiliation will be doing your ears a great disservice. Let me preface this review by saying… these guys are scary looking. They look like the sort of people walking the streets that your parents would steer you away from as a child (“Mommy, what’s wrong with that guys hair”)? Hailing from Louisville, Kentucky, MMJ is a band without a comfortable tag. Not quite alt-country, influenced by blues, and sometimes even metallic they are hard to pin down.

Guitarist and Front Man Jim James looks like a Muppet and has a voice eerily similar to Neil Young. He plays a flying-v guitar in concert and flails around the stage with drunken cheer. In fact, the general cheeriness of the music and MMJ’s stage presence are quite ironic compared to his often dark lyrics. Take for example Death Is the Easy Way “some say death is the easy way/and I think they’re right/cause nights tick by like a long week/except when you stop by”.

The songs are straightforward, about love and women and pain, but the backing keyboards and cheerful guitar (enhanced by a Galaxy 500 level of reverb) sing a song of beauty. I am again surprised by how much pleasure can be found in the expression of pain. My favorites include the almost rock-a-billy Lowdown, Xmas Curtain, and the melancholy Bermuda Highway (a song to listen to on a gray rainy day when someone pees in your cornflakes or breaks your heart).

My Morning Jacket is currently touring with The Doves and I had a chance to catch them live on September 12 at DC’s 9:30 Club (vying for position of my home away from home with the Black Cat) They really impressed me with their live performance. While their cd is simple and straightforward, they take on a sonic edge on stage. Perhaps it is the flying-v, perhaps it is the collection of green bottles on the stage, perhaps it is that you don’t see Jim James’ face through his hair throughout the entire performance (even amidst his stage bouncing and other antics). Whatever it is, they were more fun then I expected.

I’ll be honest, MMJ piqued my interest when Dean Wareham of Luna mentioned them in an interview as an interesting new band. Being a huge Luna fan I half expected MMJ to be another Velvet sound-alike and was surprised by the breadth of their influences. Check them out, they have a ton of mp3’s on their site!

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  • Jackson Cooper

    Fantastic band from my hometown: Louisville. Amazingly subtle and beautiful recordings. Live performances that hold on to the beauty of the songs, while cranking it up to 11.

    These guys are going places, and deservedly so.

  • michael

    Indeed. There isn’t anything I don’t like about this band. The recorded stuff is slow, melodic and usually rather sad, but I concur with that somehow the sadness is uplifting. Every song reaches in and drums up the stories you usually only tell yourself.

    Live MMJ, on the other hand, has a lot more rockin’ beef to it. This is one of those bands that obviously loves to play their music and you feel gratified for the opportunity to watch them do so. If you don’t see them live the next time they come through town (and they seem to tour constantly), you are missing the boat. I’ve missed them twice… never again.

    I fall asleep to MMJ every night.

    Check out their split with Songs: Ohia. Only three songs, but each one is perfect…