“Classic rock” may not be quite the timepiece we imagine. Bands with the ink still fresh on their record contracts can still sound just as bell-bottomed as any laser-light dodger did twenty-five years ago. Classic rock doesn’t have to be your hometown radio station or your dad’s record collection. The riffs and the debauchery are there for anyone to admire.
None have proved this quite as fiercely and as effortlessly as My Morning Jacket, Louisville, Kentucky’s favorite good ol’ boys. Records such as 2001’s At Dawn and especially 2003’s It Still Moves told bold, movie-length back-country dramas that kept the black lights burning without stealing a page from Jimmy Page’s withered tome. But, more important, My Morning Jacket has managed to bridge the stormy waters between the jam nation and the indie hordes, the stoners and the hipsters, the trust-fund kids and the trust-fund kids. These guys could blow up 2004’s Bannaroo Festival and still make an Urban Outfitter blush.
Z should make such feats even easier for these bluegrass boyos. Somewhere between the loss of two founding members and the influx of guitarist Carl Broemel and keyboardist Bo Koster, My Morning Jacket has broadened its biscuits ‘n’ gravy rock into something all the more breathtaking. The rhythms are tighter, the atmospheres dreamier, and the songs all the more unpredictable. Patrick Hallahan and Two-Tone Tommy could be lockin’ in together for a couple measures of space-funk one minute, and Broemel and singer/guitarist Jim James could be burning a six-string trail through Appalachia the next. And yes, kids, there are synthesizers aplenty.
Opener “Wordless Chorus” is a sly, sparse number built from silky keys, a back-talking bass line and the most soulful, heavenly vocals James has committed to tape yet. “Lay Low,” on the other hand, is a rocker in the fullest sense of the word and a welcome introduction to Broemel’s meaty Les Paul tone. And then there’s “Dondante,” the shattering closer, which pulls the same trick in a single track.
Whether they’re talking about burning kittens (see the dilated waltz of “Into the Woods”) or strumming by a lazy fire (see “Knot Comes Loose”), Z continues to surprise. By trimming thirty minutes off their standard record’s length, the members of My Morning Jacket have paradoxically managed to broaden their sound, cutting the fat to give us ten songs that jive, moon-walk and cock-rock in equal measure.