My Morning Jacket Z

My Morning Jacket Z
Maybe Z is a bit of a departure for My Morning Jacket but all that really means is that the band have created their most eclectic record to date. Though, still led by the wondrous imagination and other-worldly voice of Jim James, the band have always been in flux with old members leaving and new ones taking their place. While different players are bound to shift a band’s sound, something unfamiliar has augmented the band’s latest songs, bringing its driving, rock-infused folk closer to contemporary R&B. The dull keyboard pulse that introduces "Wordless Chorus” gives way to James’s gorgeous, soulful voice — a force of nature whose heavenly register could fill the vastest space. "Off the Record” may sound like a lark and the rocker "Anytime” comes off like Being There-era Wilco, there’s a real darkness to the record. Death lingers throughout the poppy "What a Wonderful Man” and the haunting "Dondante,” an epic tribute to a late friend. Processed drums and a cajoling guitar line guide "Lay Low,” which finds James sounding like Jackson Browne fronting the Flaming Lips. In letting sparse arrangements take their course, My Morning Jacket give in to the soul of James’s songs and Z is a remarkable surrender.

Did you strive to create a varied record? Guitarist Carl Broemel: If it seems eclectic, it’s because we weren’t really thinking about it at all. The only conscious thing that we talked about was trying to use a "less is more” approach to it, where not everybody would be playing all of the time. So, we could base a song on a rhythmic idea or a keyboard part rather than, "here’s the chords,” and then everybody just blares through the whole song.

Is Z a deliberate nod to soul music? Keyboardist Bo Koster: Music is like a language and that stuff that you’ve heard before is gonna come out of you one way or another. If you look at anyone’s music, you can see the comparisons and influences but hopefully it feels fresh and is not plagiarism.

How’s this line-up working together? Can it last? Broemel: We’ve been working on not talking about stuff while we’re writing a song together unless Jim has a really specific idea, which he did on a lot of songs with real blueprints. With rough sketches though, everybody starts playing whatever they think is appropriate. I’d love to make ten more records with this band but we all take things one step at a time. There are no rules really, so it’d probably be a day-of decision. (ATO/Sony BMG)