Coming off alternately as hillbilly hipsters, Skynyrd-loving classic rock revivalists and an American Radiohead, sometimes within the same song, Kentucky's My Morning Jacket parlayed big ambitions and a thirst for experimentation into a sound that caught on with critics, suburban dads, and hippies alike in the 2000s.
Fronted by bearded idea man Jim James, who took the band's name from an old coat he found emblazoned with the initials "MMJ," My Morning Jacket got together in Louisville in 1998. They seemed like a determined, if still green, alt-country band on their 1999 debut, a lo-fi, reverb-soaked record whose sore-throat harmonies recalled fellow Louisville songwriter Will Oldham.
At Dawn (2001) showed more of a classic-rock influences, and for 2003's It Still Moves, My Morning Jacket moved from Darla Records to ATO, the label co-founded by Dave Matthews, ensuring the group a larger audience. MMJ mostly stuck to the script of their first two albums, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing: Rolling Stone's David Fricke wrote that, "My Morning Jacket are going nowhere fast — but in all the right ways."
Except they were going places; they just needed to shuffled their lineup before getting there. Founding drummer J. Glenn exited the band after At Dawn and was replaced briefly by Chris Guetig before drummer Patrick Hallahan finally assumed the role in 2002. Following It Still Moves, second guitarist Johnny Quaid and keyboardist Danny Cash exited the band, paving the way for Carl Broemel and Bo Koster to join My Morning Jacket. In the interim, the band released the two-volume rarities compilation Early Recordings.
Z (2005) was a giant step forward. MMJ expanded their sound to included waves of synthesizers, elegant atmospherics and a newfound penchant for experimentation, tossing in bits of dub, reggae and psychedelic rock. Z was critically acclaimed from the onset—it finished 31st on Rolling Stone's list of the Best Albums of the 2000s—and coupled with the group's reputation as an premium live act (refer to their 2006 live album Okonokos for further evidence) the stage was set for the group's most eclectic release to date, 2008's Evil Urges.
Picking up neatly where Z left off, Evil Urges added Prince-flavored songs like the album's title track and the daring funk workout "Highly Suspicious." Amid the album's most far-reaching tracks—see the two-part "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream"—MMJ continued their exploration of Seventies rock, with tracks like the Neil Young-inspired ballad "Librarian" and the AM Gold rocker "I'm Amazed." Evil Urges debuted at Number Nine on the Billboard Top 200 upon its release, and My Morning Jacket performed both "I'm Amazed" and "Evil Urges" on the May 10th, 2008 episode of Saturday Night Live.
From 2003 to 2006, My Morning Jacket performed at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, and after a one-year hiatus in 2007, MMJ returned to the festival for a now-legendary four-hour set where they played a dozen of Evil Urges' 14 songs. The group is also known to perform a wide variety of covers during their concerts, taking on everything from Danzig to the Band to Erykah Badu. As a testament to both their ascension to arena rock stardom as well as the growing legend of their live shows, My Morning Jacket spent New Year's Eve 2009 performing in front of a sold-out crowd at New York's Madison Square Garden.
After touring together in 2004, Jim James teamed up with Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst, M. Ward and producer Mike Mogis to form Monsters of Folk, with the supergroup releasing their self-titled debut album in 2009. Also that year, under his occasional alias Yim Yames, James released his solo Tribute To EP, featuring acoustic covers of George Harrison songs.
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