The Early Stages

Chapter 1: The Sandworm Cometh / Chapter 2: Learning (Darla)

My Morning Jacket

By John Bohannon

Flipping through used bins at the local record store can be a rather tiring and tedious activity. Jim James has done away with all the worries of finding the "lost recordings" of My Morning Jacket (well, most of these are intimate session with James) by compiling them and releasing them on two discs, Chapter 1: The Sandworm Cometh and Chapter 2: Learning.

Now, let's get this straight right off the bat: If you plan on listening to MMJ for the first time, this is not the avenue you should take - feel free to explore these later on in your listening ventures. This is not necessarily a mandate, just a forewarning new listeners should take. As for die-hard fans, this is quite a treat to leave for that small absence in our hearts where we knew something was just missing. These two discs show the development of a true American band in their early days. They have their fair share of gems, but also include tracks that have been buried under haystacks. As the spine says in fine print, "Early recordings, b-sides, covers, y mas."

Their early cuts of songs that appeared on later albums are quite possibly the pick of the litter in these two discs. A premature version of "Weeks Go By Like Days" presents Jim James exclusively, outdoing the original cut from the album. "They Ran" is purely stripped down to its bare minimum, even the reverb. James' haunting voice chills the spine during a down-tempo version of "Old September Blues" from 1999's The Tennessee Fire. Live versions of "Bermuda Highway" and the pure alt-country tune "I Will Be There When You Die" showcase the bands strong presence on stage even in their early years.

As for the b-sides, well they're basically hits and misses. You get everything from the groovy drum-machine based "Tonight I Want to Celebrate With You" to the a capella track "Time Never Gets" smothered in reverb that sounds like a dying symphony of cats. "Downtown" is a perfect representation of how James' vocals rips into your heart with the sweetest of sounds. MMJ even gets around to genre from the poppy tune "I Just Wanted to Be Your Friend" to the lullaby sound of "That Someone Else Was You," to the experimental "Good Nights in Others' Beds," the latter of which is so far out in space you might as well have the Flaming Lips go fetch it.

Now to the part that you just cannot take seriously: the complete random assortment of covers. From a Top Gun recreation of Berlin's "Take My Breath Away" to Pet Shop Boys' "West End Girls," you begin to wonder where these guys draw their influences from and how they came out like they did. Erykah Badu's "Tyrone" surprisingly grooves hard, but after listening a few times, I gathered why they chose this one. In the beginning verse they say "Jim, James, Paul and Tyrone." Very clever Jim, I caught you on that one. These songs aren't for your regular "hipsters," because chances are they will be too cool to succumb to a guilty pleasure or two.

It's a rare opportunity to listen to such a stripped-down version of a now highly acclaimed band. Everyone had to start somewhere and where these guys started out puts quite a few of other artists' commercial releases to shame. If you are in the mood for some real passion and just a raw look at a band with more integrity and talent in their pinkies than an average band's entire bodies, then Sandworm and Learning are just what the doctor ordered.