herald

Saturday 10 December 2016

pop

A decade ago, Jim James was insisting, "Music is limitless…it always changes."

That was after a couple of indie albums had paved the way for a hook-up with ATO Records and It Still Moves, the album that introduced the Kentucky band to a wider audience worldwide.

It was a heady cocktail of alt-country, gritty rock and bluesy pop. Recorded in a disused grain silo, it marked the band as a maverick bunch determined to shun fashion in favour of an honest idiosyncratic musical vision.

Whether the world wanted to hear a Glen Campbell melody filtered through passion as raw as grunge wasn't their concern. They followed their heart. Today, It Still Moves sounds oddly timeless, music from a mineshaft once quarried by people like Neil Young and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Last year, James was heard as one of the stronger performers on Lost On The River, the album of songs written around a collection of old Bob Dylan lyrics. His striking contributions illustrate how he's grown into an artist of quiet authority.

The 10 songs on Waterfall, their seventh studio album, do nothing to challenge this observation. Quite the opposite. "In that moment, I awoke among the smoke and mirrors. I was blind," sings James on album opener Believe (Nobody Knows) signalling the trip we're about to embark on is going to be somewhat psychedelic.

If the Who played country rock, this might just be what they'd have come up with. But it's not a retro jag. Those burbling synths recall Mercury Rev, another band who've mined their own seam of sensory surrealism.

Four years on from Circuital, the band pull together and refine a set of influences that are likely to define their legacy.

Their harmonies are the sweetest confection this side of Crosby, Stills and Nash. And on the stretched out In Its Infancy (Waterfall), they're accompanied by the sort of high stratosphere guitar lines that Jerry Garcia was famous for. But that's like speaking about individual stones in an expansive mosaic design.

My Morning Jacket deftly employ orchestral rock techniques alongside a backwoods folksiness with an expertise that sets them apart as supreme stylists.

Echoing Jimmy Webb or Harry Nilsson, Get The Point grabs attention in its understated beauty. It's a big sad song as the protagonist explains, "I hope you get the point, the love is gone…"

This is the sound of a band at the peak of its powers.

HHHHI

Waterfall (ATO Records)

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