My Morning Jacket | The Waterfall ll | (ATO)
4 out of 5 stars
What has My Morning Jacket been doing since they last recorded in the studio together six years ago for 2015’s The Waterfall? It’s hard to say, but apparently not creating new music.
This belated follow-up (with almost no advance publicity) isn’t a continuation of 2014’s The Waterfall sessions created in Stinson Beach California, but rather an extension of them. The original album was already expanded with four songs added to the initial ten tracks. Now we hear the rest of the songs birthed in what was clearly a creative explosion. These 10 additional selections put a bow on the inspired sessions, complete with album art closely associated with that of the initial release.
The five year interval between these MMJ releases suggests the songs were likely not planned to become another album. But they are far too powerful and beautifully crafted to have been left on the cutting room floor. Frontman singer/songwriter Jim James was going through a reflective time as the opening dreamlike ballad “Spinning My Wheels” with its lyrics of “Hypnotized by the city lights/Hypnotized by the countryside/Hypnotized from endless traveling /Hypnotized from doing the same old thing…” makes clear.
Overall, The Waterfall ll mines a contemplative mood similar to its predecessor, but even more so. James is clearly reeling, and in some cases beating himself up, from a broken longtime relationship as he sings on “Beautiful Love (Wasn’t Enough)” “Why is my bitter heart so demanding?/So unforgiving of you?/Why can’t I be more understanding?/Why’s that so hard for me to do?” over a John Lennon styled thumping melody. A few upbeat moments like “Climbing the Ladder” enlivened by Carl Broemel’s jaunty pedal steel, break the generally introspective mood even if James’ reflective thoughts of “Don’t know where I’m going, don’t know where I’m from/Can’t hold onto anything really/If it’s already gone” continue his soul searching, trying to navigate his future.
If this sounds musically dour, it’s not. My Morning Jacket is just too solid of a unit to get dragged under musically by James’ brooding musings. He never loses his strong melodic sense and is always ready to bring a retro-styled 70s soul vibe to the table. It’s here in the lovely R&B ballad “Feel You,” which sounds like, but isn’t, a cover of an old Dramatics tune.
When the band clicks into the psychedelic six minute mid-tempo rocking “Wasted” with Broemel tearing through a raw garage riff which shifts to a mid-tune jam, you’ll wonder why anyone connected to MMJ didn’t think this was good enough to include on the first release.
No rock and rolling lead singer can pull off a falsetto as effectively as James, and the disc’s concluding “The First Time” with its Byrds’ style chiming guitar finds James reaching into his emotional core. It’s one of this album’s low key highlights. “Ooh I wonder where the time went?,” he sings as the disc drifts to a close. That might also apply to the years this music sat dormant. The set may not be quite as impressive or cohesive as its Grammy nominated predecessor, but it’s not far behind it.
The Waterfall ll successfully closes the book on these My Morning Jacket recordings. We’re waiting expectantly to hear what comes next.
Note: The album is available to stream now with CD and vinyl available Aug. 28.