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My Morning Jacket

My Morning Jacket (photo by Danny Clinch)

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The Waterfall
My Morning Jacket

Capitol/ATO Records

My Morning Jacket is back with a new album called The Waterfall, a work that rises from a fertile period of creativity for this Kentucky band, specifically for guitarist and lead vocalist Jim James. This release, their seventh studio effort and the follow-up to 2011’s Circuital, delivers the rich, psychedelic amalgam of soaring guitars, canyon-like echo, lush strings, quirky synths and other electronic flourishes that fans have come to expect from the quintet.

In the fall of 2013, My Morning Jacket—James, bassist Tom Blankenship, drummer Patrick Hallahan, lead guitarist Carl Broemel and keyboardist Bo Koster—gathered at the Panoramic House studio in northern California to begin work on a new album. Reportedly, all was going well for My Morning Jacket against that backdrop of a seaside haven in the hills until James suffered a herniated disc.

Knocked out of commission for a couple of months, James apparently struggled through his recovery, even after the sessions resumed. Yet the pain he faced proved oddly beneficial; James wrote prolifically. My Morning Jacket ended up with two albums worth of material and the first of those collections has arrived as The Waterfall, co-produced by James and Circuital cohort Tucker Martine.

Given his medical troubles, James’ lyrics occasionally veer toward weightier subject matter. “Believe (Nobody Knows)” is an exhilarating entry into The Waterfall, and seems groomed to be a concert opener. “Compound Fracture,” with its advice to take the time to get the most out of life, reveals the band’s pop sensibilities. The acoustic “Like A River” starts simply, but gradually flows like a river into a beautiful string-laden opus, creating a vivid soundscape. James’ falsetto glides over the melody like a bird in flight. The album takes a personal turn on “Get The Point,” a country song where James deals with the end of a relationship, singing, “I hope you get the point/The thrill is gone/I hope you get the point/I think the love is done.”

A relationship on the brink also drives the single “Big Decisions.” The soulful rocker “Thin Line” measures the slight space between the positive and negative. The tenuous “Tropics (Erase Traces)” sits on a mostly acoustic bed of exquisite guitar and offers one of the album’s duskier moments. The album’s soulful, expansive finale, “Only Memories Remain,” resonates like one of the beautiful California sunsets the band experienced while in Stinson Beach.

Both Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes and tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus contribute backing vocals.

On The Waterfall, My Morning Jacket finds a transfixing, mind-expanding sound that often veers towards the spiritual. Since there are more songs from these sessions planned for another album next year, there’s cause for celebration too.