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BY ED KING ROCK EXPERT Did I miss the stunning rescue effort, in which My Morning Jacket singer Jim James was successfully lifted from a giant reverb tank? In past attempts at checking out this highly acclaimed Louisville, Kentucky band, I’ve been able to tune into the guitar interplay and loping rhythm section, but I’ve wondered what James was singing about from the depths of that reverb tank. On the band’s new album, Evil Urges, James is more or less front and center, at first goofing off in the sexy title track and a couple more songs that sound like something Prince and Lindsey Buckingham might cook up. Then James and his mates get down to making some serious Big Tent Rock. After a few years of possibly premature proclamations of the Age of New Sincerity, I think we’re finally here. First the Arcade Fire broke big with a magical combination of U2, The Cure, and Bruce Springsteen. Now My Morning Jacket offers an album of loose, generous, feel-good rock that is as often reminiscent of ’70s summer stadium tour artists like Peter Frampton, The Eagles (before the California dreamin’ turned altogether nightmarish), and a rockin’ Jackson Browne. The album settles into this “put your hands together!” vibe with track 4’s “I’m Amazed”, which has all the elements needed for a guy to hoist his tank top-wearing girlfriend onto his shoulders for all the crowd to admire. As the guitars cut loose and the drummer bashes away at his crash cymbals for all they’re worth, you can imagine James ad-libbing in concert a Are you amazed, [insert that night’s town on the tour schedule]?!?! The next song, “Thank You Too”, is a song I’d like to play for a special lady. I’m reminded that Timothy B. Schmit‘s occasional lead vocal turns on Eagles songs had a soft, soulful appeal to them, no matter how much you didn’t want the other guys in the locker room to know how you felt. The lush harmonies used here are in no way ironic or tongue-in-cheek. James is so sincere in his delivery it makes you weep. The Gentle Ben/Grizzly Adams vibe continues with the “Sec Walkin'”, a soulful country shuffle that uses orchestrated six-string and pedal steel flourishes, slickster female backing vocals, and just a hint of ’70s Stevie Wonder harmonics in ways that don’t seem possible in these dying days of the Dubya administration. But change is gonna come – sometime after the album’s kinder, gentler “Two Halves” wisely looks back in a rare Badfinger-meets-Freddie Fender style. You’ve got to believe me when I say the strength of this song is its high school yearbook-quotable lyrics. I’m going to have to go back an listen to an old MMJ album to see if I can make out what James was going on about in that reverb tank. As the album winds down the guitars wind up. The underlying optimism and doo-wop chorus of “Aluminum Park” sounds like Jackson Browne in his rare rockin’ mode. The guitarists dig in like Waddy Wachtel and Danny Kortchmar at their most commanding performances. Next the band toys with Pearl Jam’s Crazy Horse-inspired guitar muscle, wisely leaving out the Eddie Vedder yarl. The naive rallying cry of the lead vocals lends the song an air of ’70s hard-rock make-out music. Big Tent Rock! Evil Urges goes out “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Part 2”, which sounds like something Steve Miller or ELO would concoct over the course of months in the studio–and I mean that in a good way! That’s the amazing thing about this accomplished record. For all the dicking around young musicians have been doing with suspect influences of the dollar bin Greatest Hits albums of my teen years, My Morning Jacket somehow gets it right.
SEPARATED AT BIRTH: Jim James & Grizzly Adams