I have to be honest here and say that I've never really quite got the whole "jam band" thing. At least not in the modern context.
Yet, this is most often exactly the sort of band that My Morning Jacket have been characterized as. When I ran into an old friend of mine at a MMJ concert about a year ago — mind you, this was a guy who I'd been through many of the rock and roll wars of the seventies with — he greeted me with the ever-familiar stoned "whoa, dude," and then proceeded to give me this assessment of Jim James and company:
"Fucking Pink Floyd and Grateful Dead meets the Allman Brothers, dude."
Well, alrighty then.
While there may be some truth to that sumnation of My Morning Jacket, I would for the most part have to disagree. The similarities are of course obvious. The band is certainly known for its phenomenal three hour plus concerts, that have a tendency to lean towards the free-form and otherwise improvisational. Being from Kentucky, there is also the occasional southern-rock Allman-esque twinge. But for my money, the comparisons end there.
Since I don't do LSD, I tend to stay awake at MMJ concerts for one thing. And I've yet to run into a semi-naked hippie chick selling tacos from a mud-caked oil-pan there.
What My Morning Jacket does as a band is something that — while certainly drawing on the improvisational spirit of bands like the Dead and the Allmans — is a unique entity unto itself. My friend actually got it sort of right when he included Pink Floyd in his stoned, yet semi-accurate critique.
This aint Phish. And these are not merely "jams." Although they often serve as launch points to further musical exploration, these are actual songs.
As if to make that very point, Evil Urges is without doubt, the most song-oriented release from My Morning Jacket to date. In fact, at times there is almost a Steely Dan like studio sheen present here. Not to fear however. With a running time of something like 75 minutes — in seventies terms that would almost make this a double album — Evil Urges allows MMJ plenty of room for the sort of stretching out that fans have come to expect from this band.
At the same time, this is still the band's most song-oriented effort to date. On a first listen, there is not a riff here that sticks out in the same way that "Off The Record" from Z did. But if the melodically driven harmonies of "I'm Amazed" don't constitute the closest thing that this "jam band" has ever come to a single, I simply don't know what could.
The title track "Evil Urges," likewise offers up a lilting melody over a hard funk backbeat that gets under your skin in a way that is impossible to resist. The funk goes deeper still on "Highly Suspicious."
The fact is, for a so-called "jam band," My Morning Jacket shows itself as a band with a unique way with a hook here.
The bottom line here is that fans of MMJ's reputation as a band known for, you know "stretching things out," in their live shows have little to fear here. But on Evil Urges, it is also apparent that they are honing their songcraft.
Evil Urges will be in stores June 10.