10 Best My Morning Jacket Songs
My Morning Jacket have been many things over the past dozen-plus years: an alt-country band, an indie-rock band, a psych-rock band and a funkified R&B band. Credit frontman Jim James' restlessness for these shifts every couple of years. There are few similarities between 1999's twangy debut album, 'The Tennessee Fire,' and 2011's free-form 'Circuital.' The Kentucky quintet's marathon concerts, which include covers of songs written by everyone from Curtis Mayfield to the Bee Gees, have helped build their growing reputation as one of music's most exploratory bands. The greatest thing about the 10 best My Morning Jacket songs? No two sound alike.
My Morning Jacket's 1999 debut stumbles through an empty wasteland of dusty-trail Americana and mostly indistinguishable roots rock. They begin to find some footing on their follow-up LP, especially with 'Just Because I Do,' their first standout song. They're still kicking around the alt-country here -- with harmonica, strumming guitars and a slight twang in James' voice -- but there's also a monster hook pulling it all along.
James got a little weird on the band's fifth album, diving headfirst into funk and R&B. The opening title track is Prince by way of outer space, with James working a serious falsetto over one of the group's slinkiest rhythms, which eventually breaks for a shuffling jam. The mid-song detour leading up to it is one of the most inspired touches in the entire My Morning Jacket catalog.
With 'It Still Moves,' their third album, My Morning Jacket finally reached that sweet spot between what was going on inside James' head and its execution (key ingredient: reverb, and lots of it). It remains their most definitive work. This moody, plaintive song simmers with layered harmonies, sweeping open-plain grandeur and plenty of trademark echo.
This is where My Morning Jacket find their groove. The opening song on their excellent third album throws in everything the band is best known for: a reverb-spiked vocal by James, a slight musical shift around the halfway point and a killer country-influenced guitar solo that picks up a little speed the longer it goes on. Plus, there's cowbell!
The title tune of MMJ's sixth album is a sprawling seven-minute epic that strips away most of the band's usual signposts. There are no traces of twangy or soulful Americana. There's no muddy production sinking into itself. And there's no immediate hook to pull you in. Still, the song sounds big, grander than anything they've ever recorded.
The opening song on the band's fourth album was a sign that things were changing. Super-low rumbling bass, which comes pretty close to hip-hop, rolls through the intro before neo-soul drums fuel the rhythm. True to its title, there's not much of a chorus here. In fact, it's not so much a song as framework to a bigger structure. 'Z' remains their most adventurous work; this track sets the foundation.
My Morning Jacket haven't released too many singles (and only two of them made this list of the 10 Best My Morning Jacket Songs). This one -- from 2008's 'Evil Urges,' the band's most radio-friendly album -- actually received some airplay. It's also one of the band's most straightforward tracks, a love song with clean production, a reserved guitar solo and one of James' most direct vocals. Though we appreciate the howls he lets out after the bridge.
Another one of My Morning Jacket's rare single releases, 'Off the Record' wouldn't have sounded out of place on Top 40 radio ... if Top 40 radio embraced unstructured pop songs like this. The chorus is one of the band's catchiest, and James gives one of his most engaging performances. But the breakdown two-thirds of the way through killed its chances of sharing airtime with Rihanna and Katy Perry. Still, it's one of the band's most playful tunes.
This lovely acoustic ballad comes pretty close to a Jim James solo cut, but it remains a staple, and highlight, of their live shows. It's also the most durable entry on this list -- a sturdy showcase for James' increasingly confident songwriting. There's not much to this sun-kissed love song, but its simplicity is a huge part of its timeless charm.
Topping our list of the 10 Best My Morning Jacket Songs is the most representative track they've recorded. Tons of echo? Check. Kick-ass guitar solo? Check. A big, bad almost epic that manages to turn over and into itself a couple of times during its five sublime minutes? Check. If you listen closely, the self-referential song tells the story of the band's career up to that point. But that hasn't stopped the TV show House from using it in an episode or countless fans from rocking some sweet air guitar to its massively huge solo. A monumentally awesome record.