It Certainly Does

It Still Moves (ATO)
My Morning Jacket

By Tim Roberts

Sometimes the human heart is an empty dance hall and My Morning Jacket is the headlining act, filling it to the rafters with their signature reverb, the echoed lead vocals from Jim James, acoustic and electric guitars hammering at a thin sonic shell, the mysterious, occasionally mournful blend of open-sky country and gut-bucket rock. Their lyrics make it seem that a sad ghost of disillusionment floats through it. Sometimes the ghost manages a small smile, sometimes a wide grin, but it always is there as a memento of loss, small hurts and mercy that slips our grasp. That haunted dance hall is open again with It Still Moves. And this time, the ghost - courtesy of Dave Matthews' ATO Records - invites you spend a little more than an hour with it, soak up the ambience, maybe even dance a few steps.

Moves, the third full-length work from Jim James and Company, still has its spacious sound, a world where analog recordings and AM hiss never vanished, where the treble is always a notch higher than the bass, but this time we get scatterings of rhythm-and-blues horns, fuzz guitar and synthesizer straight from the chase scene of a television cop show, cowboy-poet lyrics and even some textbook rock-and-roll. It all works together as a tasty acoustic stew.

Like the previous release, At Dawn, Moves begins with an invocation. In "Mahgeetah," James asks "So. . .are you ready to go? / My lady. . . just listen, just slow down," and invites us, with help from his "geetah" (and friends Johnny Quaid, Two Tone Tommy, Danny Cash and Patrick Hallahan), on the journey to follow. That journey takes us to the "Dance Floor," with its bark from the horn section, to the poetic "Golden," a hymn to open skies and dark bars, to both solitude and cheap talk with strangers. But nearly halfway into Moves, My Morning Jacket explodes into basic rock-and-roll on "One Big Holiday," the one song that commands you to crowd the stage and pump your fist at the band (or crowd your stereo and pump your fist at your speakers - it won't be as good as a live show, but you won't have to put up with any body odor other than your own).

The band then abruptly drops into the crestfallen "I Will Sing You Songs," a mellowing track about the reluctance to create just to meet with needs of someone else, a reluctance that shows in its plea of "just don't make it any longer than it has to." And with that track we are firmly back in familiar My Morning Jacket territory: the two-step rhythm and broken music box melody of "Early Morning Rebel," mournful blues and a hard-edged bridge in "Run Thru," and slow doo-woppy vocals in "Rollin' Back," all with a twist on standard American music stylings.

The two songs that finish the recording ease us back from the wild journey the band takes us on. Wailing guitar and vocals from a breaking heart, one that still beats and moves, make "Steam Engine" a love song of true passion that addresses the subject indirectly without use of the trite or common terms "need you" or "baby be mine." Then back home from the trip we get "One in the Same," our tender lesson in consciousness containing the line, "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."

It Still Moves proves the power of My Morning Jacket to wrap us in an audio reverie. Jim James and his band are master hypnotists that won't have us clucking like chickens under their spell, but we will awaken from it and leave our empty dance halls a little less discouraged, a little more aware and a little more comfortable with the ghost that hangs around.