February 12, 2004

The Repeat Button: My Morning Jacket

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My Morning Jacket made it. The ATO print of RCA picked them up from the California indie label, Darla. Their album, It Still Moves, provides the keystone of this bridge from the indie to the big time by refining the beautiful lonesomeness that set the band apart in the first place. Though this shift has brought the band success, their rise to niche-stardom has taken its toll. Recently, guitarist (and cousin of lead singer Jim James) Johnny Quaid and keyboardist Danny Cash quit the band. Ironically, My Morning Jacket’s ambivalence about cashing in on their music can be found on the very record that brought them their newfound acclaim. That’s the tragedy. They saw it all coming.

“One Big Holiday” is My Morning Jacket’s take on the blessing and curse of rock-celebrity. Considering their partial break-up, the song unfortunately proves itself true. After the slowly building introduction of a high-hat roll, guitar picking, and intermittent bass hits, Jim James’s reverberating pining follows. Once the cycling guitar explodes into a fury of country-twang solo riffs, Jim sings “When the telephone it ring/ was a bad man from California/ tellin’ of a stone he’d bring and of better days.” James tells the listener what the “man” told him, “We’d escape/ if we holler loud and make our way/ we’d all live one big holiday.” The “bad man” sounds like the label rep peddling fame and fortune — a gluttonous holiday — in exchange for exploiting the band’s music. The deal is both tantalizing and dangerous.

“Holiday” captures the essence of their plight, posed on the brink of stardom and the precipice of failure. The stop and go of syncopated drums and guitar evokes future uncertainty, but James’ vocals drive the song forward through the rocky terrain. Oddly, as we hear this epic song of hope and anxiety, we know that MMJ has already pulled it off. The sweeping beauty of the band’s composition crystallizes with our realization of their success. Unfortunately, success has inflicted its own fate on the membership of the band.

Archived article by Andrew Gilman