Monday, October 5, 2015


My Morning Jacket moved on from the fissure with the soulful cosmic swoon of this rearranged reggae rock reverie.   They had released two albums (The Tennessee Fire in 1999  and  At Dawn in 2001) on independent Darla Records before signing with the Dave Matthews RCA imprint ATO Records for It Still Moves in 2003).   Danny Cash and Johnny Quaid left the band in 2004 and were replaced by Bo Koster and Carl Broemel.   For their next album 'Z', the band decided to forgo recording again at the Above the Cadillac Studio and its 'magical' grain silo at the Olliges family farm in Shelbyville, Kentucky.   Jim James (James Edward Olliges) and John Leckie  co-produced the sessions in the Catskill Mountains at Allaire Studios in Shokan, New York which featured  Tom Blankenship on bass guitar;   Carl Broemel on guitar, vocals, pedal steel, and saxophone;   Patrick Hallahan on drums and percussion;   Jim James on vocals, lead guitar, and rhythm guitar;   and  Bo Koster on keyboards, vocals, piano, organ, looping, and percussion;   with   Andrew Bird adding strings, and whistles on "Gideon", "Into the Woods", and "It Beats 4 U";  and  M. Ward doing the acoustic guitar and choirs on "Into the Woods".  

Blankenship:  "It didn't feel right, it felt like a ghost town, going out there to the studio [in Shelbyville]. We had milked that place creatively. Then we decided, 'Hey, we have two new members in the band, so we should just do everything differently.'...[Allaire is] so secluded, it took a half-hour just to drive up the driveway. We had been talking for years about really locking ourselves in when we did an album, and now there was no excuse but to be in the studio all the time. You'd wake up and have breakfast and grab your coffee and walk into the control room."

James: The place we recorded, was like an old mansion, that they built back in the 20's, that sits on top of its own mountain and overlooks like, all the rest of the mountains and it was blizzarding and snowing and we were locked in there for like a month. It's kinda like the Shining. 

Broemel: "Jim's voice is a huge part [of our sound]. Patrick's right foot is a huge part of it. Everybody has their own little thing to contribute. As far musical ideas, the sky's the limit. There's things we probably don't think about that will always be there, but I have no idea what the next record will be like. We'll work and rework a song. "Into The Woods" had three or four incarnations that we thought were pretty cool before we finalized what we wanted to do with it. The same goes for "Off the Record" which wasn't a reggae-feeling song at first. All the songs are great as just acoustic songs, too."

Hallahan:   "If you don't have any prejudice in the music you listen to you shouldn't have any prejudice in the music you play."

Koster:   "There's a certain mysterious quality to everything. I always feel like I'm in another time or place when I play this music. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a movie or something. That's a testament to Jim and his imagination. His songwriting is very non-literal a lot of the time, and there's a fantasy element to some things."

James:  "Just one letter not connected to any other letters or vowels at all. I like the shape of it. You can bend it to make a triangle. You can lop off one end to make a 7. I feel like it had a lot going for it. It’s also the last letter, the 26th letter in the alphabet, and I wrote all the songs when I was 26...I thought [the cover art by Louisville artist Kathleen Lolley] set a good tone about the world within us and going inside and being more within yourself, is how I took it. It’s something that I try really hard to do, to stop thinking and stop the mental noise and chatter in my mind. It really is like static, just a thousand voices and mental movies in your mind and when you stop and you just concentrate on your surroundings or where you are, it’s really like turning off a loud radio that’s just playing a bunch of shit"

Blankenship:  “Whenever I was talking about the title people would think it was going to be our last record. I thought that was funny. Or someone said we were going to start going backwards. After Z we’d do Y and just keep going that way...Obviously, the reverb-- especially on the vocals and drums. I think those sounds are kind of a signature [to our sound]. You always know it's My Morning Jacket when you hear the drums start. Songwriting-wise we'll always be all over the map but production wise there's always little hints of what came before, a My Morning Jacket vein that runs through everything."

'Z'  reached number seventy-four in the UK, seventy-one in Belgium, and sixty-seven in the US.


Off the Record

full album:

All songs written by Jim James, except where noted:

00:00 - Wordless Chorus
04:09 - It Beats 4 U
07:51 - Gideon
11:21 - What a Wonderful Man
13:43 - Off the Record (James, Tom Blankenship, Patrick Hallahan)
19:09 - Into the Woods
24:25 - Anytime
28:16 - Lay Low
34:18 - Knot Comes Loose
38:09 - Dondante

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