Z

Studio Album by released in 2005

Z review

Z finds My Morning Jacket at something of a career crossroads

My Morning Jacket is a band from Louisville, KY, built solidly around the vocal and songwriting talent of group leader Jim James. Their sound is lonesome, haunting, almost classic country at times, and Jim James' voice shares the same section of that old country highway with the familiar sounds of Neil Young, yet sounds right at home here in the world of independent American pop music, alongside contemporary singers like the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne and Galaxie 500's Dean Wareham. My Morning Jacket weaves songs and sounds together perfectly never allowing the heavy reverb to subtract anything from the visual lyrics, or from the simple beauty of the songs themselves. Z, their second album for a major label, finds My Morning Jacket at something of a career crossroads. This could explain the presence of John Leckie in the producer's chair. Leckie, who has worked with everyone from Pink Floyd to The Stone Roses, has effectively drained all the reverb from their sound. Fortunately, he has not removed an iota of their soul. The departure of two founding members has not diminished them either. Z seems like just the beginning of a whole new phase.

10 fantastic tracks packed tightly into 47 minutes

This hasn't been an era for disciplined, focused LPs, which makes listening to My Morning Jacket's Z – with its 10 fantastic tracks packed tightly into 47 minutes – so bracing that it's hard to trust. Z begins humbly, with Wordless Chorus, a sweet nothing of a song built around a skittering beat, a sexy coo, and an angelic choir. It sounds like foreplay and afterglow all at once. The next song, It Beats For You, weaves together Pink Floyd, Red House Painters, Will Oldham, David Crosby, and Radiohead into one meandering, quasi-mystical declaration of love, and the album holds onto that rope the rest of the way, adding new strands without pulling out the old ones. Z is sturdy enough to hold the sloppy, scream-along alt-rock of What a Wonderful Man, the calliope turns of Into The Woods, the pulsating power-pop of Anytime, the elided southern stomp of Lay Low (which builds to a dual guitar jam that The Allman Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd would be happy to claim), and the delicate piano balladry of Knot Comes Loose, enriched by slide guitar and the high-lonesome moan of singer-songwriter Jim James.

Z is (at least so far) the band's definitive recording

On Z, My Morning Jacket's traditional influences are present – the folk, blues, and country tones. By trimming thirty minutes off their standard record’s length, the members of My Morning Jacket have paradoxically managed to broaden their sound. Z is intuitive, intensely creative, classicist-minded, nearly flawless. A major lineup change on the way to Z apparently inspired My Morning Jacket's prime mover, singer-guitarist-songwriter Jim James, to mess with his template, to impressive effect. He is now writing actual pop songs, like the two and a half minutes of What a Wonderful Man. And there is an emphasis on keyboards, in pulse and architecture that adds buoyancy and color to James' writing and flatters his keening, stratospheric tenor. Z is (at least so far) the band's definitive recording. Yes, it may not hew faithfully to past My Morning Jacket records, but its wide-open range perfectly exemplifies the group's adventurous spirit. Z continues to explore the band’s voice, but in a different manner than past works.