Coming Full Circuital: Jacket Jams Monastic & Fantastic

June 6, 2011 · Print This Article

The review-as-press-release-quipping-common-wisdom concerning the rock kings of the Kentucky hills on their sixth studio release implies that it’s the “return to their roots record” – that is, the return to hairy masculine pyrotechnic roots rock in reaction to the fairly fairy funky flourishes of Evil Urges. Perhaps it’s that – but it’s more than that.

With the many philosophical readings of the album’s title (and title track) Circuital shaking the trees of Appalachia, there’s no doubt that this record rides a wide river of meaning. Thus, the return to form returns to being born – not so much a return to their roots, but a return to our roots, to the roots of humanity, to the circuit of life where a tribe of earthlings does their “Victory Dance” of simply waking up to the “First Light” of a spiritual reality.

With his monkish humility, muppet mop, and wizard’s beard, Jim James has always rocked his frontman mystique like a renegade mystic, peddling rock n roll parables and koans of a Zen Jedi sensibility with sudden doses of Jesus and the devil thrown in to keep us guessing. Churning out albums and tours “on the circuit” like a fiery preacher or rodeo star matches work ethic with a wandering wisdom and yearning for greater truth, beauty, and freedom.

Culminating the band’s career to this point, Circuital could be listened to as a coherent religious statement, a new testament of a band’s enduring magic and magnificence on the edge of midlife maturity. In our world’s menu-driven kaleidoscope of easy downloads and fleeting fads, My Morning Jacket craft an old school and epic modernity, full-length albums worth dusting off the headphones and turning off the lights for, for focused and mellow front-to-back sonic contemplation.

My Morning Jacket are a band that give me hope that “The Day Is Coming” when all our splicing and dicing of contemporary music subgenres will collapse back into the more generous and inclusive categories of rock and pop, where music’s communal impulses will return us to our primary purposes of improving our world. Listening to “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” – a song that’s been in the Jacket & James’s live sets for some time now – I cannot help but want it to become the campfire classic of the 21st century, a sort of New Age mantra-mashup where “Kumbaya” meets “The Big Rock Candy Mountain.” It’s a glorious track of holy hummin’ and strummin’ that’s always existed in the heart and that I can’t imagine ever growing tired of.

I don’t know about you, but this Jacket fan had more than a few demons I had to get “Outta My System” over my years of indulging in the seedier sides of the music scene. Today, this charming track could be listened to with humility or nostalgia by some fans and as a warning to others, cautioning both against prodigal excess and excesses of piety. The sudden switch to the slick, sick, and slinky jam of “Holdin’ Onto Black Metal” keeps reminding us about the dark side even as it ages into a humorous and health distance from it. This record dances in the deeper grooves, all about a band growing up before our ears and eyes, gifting us with lessons about growing up.

With abiding respect for rock’s many rivers progressing toward an ocean of awesome, My Morning Jacket tap twinkly and tweaky sources of playful genius and balance these with reverence for songcraft, cultural evolution, and spiritual awakening. Their popular progress has been steady and slow and while not as gargantuan as peers like Fleet Foxes or Kings of Leon or any of the Jack White projects, they remain my favorite of the 21st century bands for their courageous sincerity and complex simplicity. This is a circuit I’ve been on since 2006, and one I’d like to stay on with the band for as long as they’re working it and bringing us back to the place where we all began and begin again.

–Andrew William Smith, Editor (Circuital was released on Tuesday, May 31. Visit


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