My Morning Jacket, 'It Still Moves' (ATO/RCA)

8
It Still Moves
Critical Mass
Label: ATO/RCA

by Zac Crain

Think of It Still Moves--the third album by Kentucky's My Morning Jacket and their first for Dave Matthews' ATO Records--as a Tennessee Williams play revamped as Southern-rock opera, all gothic romance and alcoholic ardor. Five seconds into album opener "Mahgeetah," singer/guitarist Jim James admits that he's "all wrapped up in a bottle of wine"; "Golden" is about his ongoing love affair with bars. The music teeters between a buzz and a bender. Just before last call, James makes his poor-me point: "It wasn't till I woke up / That I could hold down a joke, or a job, or a dream / But then all three are one in the same." Reverb swaddles his voice, making it sound like an echo of an echo of an echo; the band get lost in echoes of their own, imagining a world where Neil Young is their Uncle Tupelo and their Grandaddy,too.

My Morning Jacket are a consummate bar band, seeking redemption and ruin at the bottom of a bottle and returning bleary-eyed to tell the tale. They've bellied up to these themes before, most notably on 2001's desperate At Dawn ("He wants to pour you a drink / And you won't feel a thing"). But this time, the band lug the still-smoking amps from their lightning-strike live show into the studio and let the noise chase the midnite vultures away.

It Still Moves is a top-down road trip on lost highways, with the band having fun in spite of themselves. They collect postcards of sweaty Memphis soul ("Dancefloors"),high-lonesome Nashville heartache ("Easy Mornin' Rebel"), and Mississippi back-porch blues ("Master Plan"), pasting them into a scrapbook of songs rife with indecision. "Oh, I know that it's easy / There's no trouble waitin' for me," James sings one minute;"Oh, I know it's never easy / When there's trouble waitin' for me," the next. He strings every word along like a confidence man, his voice as alluring as milk and honey in a dirty shot glass. James plays the lonely lifer racking up empties at the end of the bar, but It Still Moves surrounds him with enough guitars and grins to make his season in the abyss feel like happy hour.

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