Led by whiskery 24-year-old Jim James, My Morning Jacket, five rock hounds from the farmlands of Kentucky, were formed back in 1998. Early days rehearsing and recording amid the barns and silos of guitarist Johnny Quaid’s grandparents’ farm were pivotal, smearing their countrified slacker rock in a haze of reverb. The effect, now duplicated in the studio, is like buckshot clanging’ round the pillars of an empty cathedral. At its epicentre is James’ remarkable delivery, as oddly beautiful as The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, but five times as tough.
Debut The Tennessee Fire (1999) finds them manfully struggling to nail the sound. There are mercurial moments, but James is often buried in the mix or seemingly unconvinced of his own strengths. Last year’s At Dawn, however, kicked over a welter of traces in dazzling style. There’s straightforward country-pop (“Lowdown”), shorn, stoned ballads (“If It Smashes Down”), the odd, ill-advised 12-bar blues (“Honest Man”), bell-bottomed Southern boogie (“Just Because I Do”) and even a dabble in dub (“Phone Went West”), but James’ soulful, inflamed howl is enough to crack open a marble moon.
This is simple stuff at heart. The songs cover the time-honoured staples of love, loss and death, but, though hardly happy-clappy, there’s no miserabilist baggage to unload here (they adore Led Zep, despise Will Oldham). And this stunning, sometimes transfiguring music is all the healthier for it.