My Morning Jacket
My Morning Jacket (photo by Danny Clinch, PR)
My Morning Jacket
The Waterfall II
Many times, sequels fall short of reaching the heights, meeting the standards, or generating the acclaim of the first go-round. But while the new album from the Kentucky-born band My Morning Jacket is titled as if it were a sequel or a redux, it is far from being a collection of old, rehashed ideas or an attempt to duplicate an earlier success.
The Waterfall II is a second chapter and a continuation of the themes My Morning Jacket began to address on their last album, The Waterfall. They are themes that require further contemplation and examination and that is what happens on their newest long player.
From late 2013 into most of 2014, My Morning Jacket gathered at a hilltop mansion called Panoramic House, located in the scenic northern California town of Stinson Beach, to record some new music. The tranquil environment of their idyllic surroundings inspired the band, fueling a creative energy that resulted in more than two dozen new songs going into the can. At session's end, the band toyed with the idea of releasing most of the new songs on a double or even triple album, but decided to scale back those aspirations, releasing The Waterfall (the follow up to 2011’s Circuital) as a ten-song single album in the spring of 2015.
With the release of The Waterfall came immediate hints that there was a lot more to be heard from those Panoramic House sessions. It may have taken five years, but we are now finally hearing ten more songs on the band’s eighth studio album, The Waterfall II.
Jim James, the band's frontman, has made it clear that The Waterfall II should not be regarded as a collection of studio outtakes, B-sides, or rejects from The Waterfall. Instead, says James, this new album “is simply the second half of a long sprawling snapshot of life for me as a writer in the years leading up to 2014 and the life of us as a band as we lived and worked in the epic country in and around Stinson Beach, California.”
The process of making The Waterfall II began during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, when being quarantined was just beginning to become the new normal. While hiking, James found himself revisiting My Morning Jacket’s unreleased songs from their 2013-14 sessions. In listening for the first time in a while, James experienced joy as he reflected back to those sessions and made a renewed connection to the emotions he was feeling at that time. He also discovered a synergy between those songs and the dispiriting climate we all find ourselves dealing with today.
While the overall vibe of The Waterfall II is generally cerebral and introspective, the moods of the individual songs range from soft and gentle (“Spinning My Wheels”), acoustic (“Welcome Home”), pleasantly psychedelic (the marvelous “Feel You”), bouncy (“Still Thinkin”) and ominous (“Magic Bullet”) with styles varying from upbeat countrified pop (“Climbing The Ladder”) to heavy rock (“Wasted”).
Topically, “Spinning My Wheels” expresses a desire to break free from the routine and the mundane. In “Run It,” James sings about emotional cleansing or in his words, “the desire to disappear and turn back into water." Similarly in the convivial “Welcome Home,” James sings, “All the colors on the leaves/All the love that comes to me/ Open arms are saying to me/Welcome home. Send bad habits on their way/Let a new year start today/Open arms are saying to me/Welcome home.”
Conversely, James addresses his frustrations about his inability to be accepting of the love offered to him in “Beautiful Love (Wasn’t Enough).” “Magic Bullet” is a response to all of the ills plaguing society today. In it, James sings: "Ain’t no magic bullet, come from magic shell/No other way to put it, far as I can tell/Ain’t no way to solve a problem of the streets/With an itchy trigger finger/Servant of disease.”
The Waterfall II concludes encouragingly with “The First Time,” a song that radiates renewal and rejuvenation. As has been the case for the past 16 years, My Morning Jacket features lead vocalist and guitarist James, bassist Tom Blankenship, drummer Patrick Hallahan, guitarist and vocalist Carl Broemel, and keyboardist and vocalist Bo Koster; with James and Blankenship being the two remaining members from the original lineup that came together in 1998. The Waterfall II was produced by James, who wrote all of the album’s songs, and Tucker Martine. The Waterfall II will be available on CD and LP on August 28.
At no time does The Waterfall II feel like an album rehashing old moods and sentiments. Heartbreak, recovery, pain and healing all come through on the new album, but they are themes My Morning Jacket examines in a different light then when they were first revealed five years ago on The Waterfall.