My Morning Jacket - The Waterfall - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

My Morning Jacket - The Waterfall

by Justin Pearson Rating:7.5 Release Date:2015-05-04

My Morning Jacket are in a comfort zone - and that's just fine. For a band that's already checked off a few detours on the stylistic map, it's inevitable that they would eventually feel homesick and return to the alt-country digs of their origin. Latest album The Waterfall finds them back in form - the form that shaped them into the well-loved band they've become. Then again, they've never really left, only widened their scope on the journey.

Whether experimenting or staying low-key, MMJ are always confident (and pretty damn good) either way as they continue honing their original sound, not too country and not too rock. This kind of middle-ground is the stance that The Waterfall embraces. It doesn't quite tower like 2005's masterpiece Z did, with its creative diversions, but it certainly stands tall enough to be noticed and counted among the rest of their work, being mostly similar to the ambition of 2011's slightly bigger and more polished Circuital.

The big-sounding, stage-ready jams are still here with 'Spring (Among the Living)' and 'Big Decisions'. A song about renewal, 'Spring' is a straightforward rocker with a bit of funk thrown in, while 'Big Decisions' would sound logical added to the tracklist of Circuital. Its big chorus is perfect for one of their live shows with Jim James' powerful vocals asking "What do you want me to do?/ Make all the big decisions for you?"

Universal themes of life and faith come into play on 'Believe (Nobody Knows)' and 'In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)'. The former asks us not to worry, things will work out eventually: "Time to roll the answer floats on down the farthest shore of the mind/ Roll the dice that sail the ship and all the doors will open on down the line." James joyously accepts the not-knowing as he bellows out the call to "Believe, believe, believe, believe/ Nobody knows for sure."

The lyric echoes the idea of taking time for yourself and finding peace, which is what James referred to in a recent Rolling Stone interview about the album's title, The Waterfall. He said it's "a metaphor for how life is constantly beating you down, and you really have to take time to stop it and get through."

Insistent, repetitive guitar and drums suspensfully build alongside a cymballed flurry, until James unleashes his own waterfall of resolution with pure confidence: "Again I stopped the waterfall by simply thinking/ Again I stopped the waterfall before my breathing/ Again I stopped the waterfall by finally feeling/ Again I stopped the waterfall by just believing."

The folk/country confessional 'Get the Point' sees James getting personal, its bluntness aimed at an ex-lover: "I hope you get the point/ The thrill is gone/ I hope you get the point/ I think our love is done." On a song that's played and sung so sweet, it's hard to belive it's anything but sugar-coated.

Also indebted to love, 'Thin Line' expertly mirrors its theme of indecision, with James' drunk guitar wobbling like a driver taking a sobriety test. It pulls back, then surges forward like an intoxicated lover and provides the perfect backdrop for the subsequent line: "Well it's a thin line between lovin' and wasting my time."

Two of the best tracks are actually bonuses on this deluxe version of the album. 'Hillside Song' showcases James' vocal ability at its gravelly, yearning best. His voice almost breaks with a sweet pain on this touching ode to a past love.

'I Can't Wait' is instantly likeable. There's a raw, demo quality in its simple pureness. It's one of those songs that feels like it was written and recorded in one take, not unlike a song off debut The Tennessee Fire, on which a grain silo was sometimes the studio substitute.

With a band as consistent as My Morning Jacket, The Waterfall proves just one thing: that they in fact don't actually have anything to prove. This album doesn't necessarily reach for any new heights, but what's there to reach for when you've already grabbed for greatness and found such a strong hold?

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