They may be often overlooked now, but the first two albums from Louisville, Kentucky’s My Morning Jacket — 1999’s The Tennessee Fire and 2001’s At Dawn, both released by Darla — thrived off a keen sense of melody and a focus on honing a songwriting skill. And the demos of those albums serve as verification that the members of My Morning Jacket had a clear-cut creative vision long before they started writing rock anthems such as “One Big Holiday” and tearing down genre walls with 2005’s ambitious Z.
The At Dawn demos (which were originally packaged with the first pressing of the album) contain early versions of tracks such as “Phone Went West” and “Lowdown.” They drown in Jim James’s off-kilter relationship with phrasing melodies, which otherwise become overtaken in the context of a studio recording. Considering the album was self-produced and provided a stripped-down environment in the first place, The Tennessee Fire demos don’t stray too far from the record versions. But they offer a glimpse into James’s songwriting process, which has provided the groundwork for evolution over the band’s four albums.