By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Evil Urges, the group's fifth LP, was one of the year's most anticipated releases, and it doesn't disappoint, as the band seems to find a common ground between the hazy hayseed vibe of its first two records and the proggy stoner-rock of Z. The PR shill that their label, ATO, is sending out claims, "My Morning Jacket have officially outgrown their 'best live band reputation.' Now...they are ready to be the best band, period." There's probably a trace of hyperbole in that statement, but not much. Indeed, Joe Chiccarelli, the Grammy-nominated producer brought in to work on Evil Urges, ranks MMJ among the finest units he's worked with, a list that includes Frank Zappa, Elton John, Beck, The Shins and The White Stripes.
"Jim is one of the best songwriters in music," Chiccarelli says. "His lyrics are intelligent and thoughtful, and like all great rock 'n' roll groups, the band's whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Everyone's strengths and weaknesses add up to something magical. When they click, they make their own noise, and as a producer, that's what you live for. I'd put them in a league with Wilco or Radiohead."
Evil Urges also finds the band experimenting with funk and soul in ways that had only been hinted at earlier with "Cobra," and a widely circulated and gorgeous cover of Erykah Badu's "Tyrone." The new direction stems from James' fascination with the idea of music at its peripheries and the constant search for that indefinable blur of sound when the concept of "genre" becomes meaningless—which is why it's no surprise, then, that James found himself listening to lots of gospel and '70s soul as he wrote Evil Urges. It helped him recall a time, he says, "when soul, funk and religious music became indistinguishable from one another."
The album's title, meanwhile, reflects James' own fascination with organized religion, morality and his personal struggles to find faith.
"I think about religion a lot," he says, "from listening to gospel music, to attending church trying to find some sort of faith for myself. I haven't been able to find it yet. I've tried hard, but something's just not hitting me."
Maybe he should go to a My Morning Jacket concert.