MMJ The Waterfall cover

If you’re planning to grow out your hair and stare profoundly into the sky all summer long, My Morning Jacket’s seventh album, The Waterfall, is the soundtrack you need.

The rollicking “Compound Fracture” would be a perfect opening song for your summer road trip mixtape. “In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)” is the song most bands hope to write in one career. It shifts from mood and tone with one count off the hi-hat, blending Classic Rock interpolations with thick-fingered shots of prog. The stunted falsetto of Jim James rises like mist from the instrumental downpour.

Since hitting it big time in 2003 with It Still Moves My Morning Jacket have strived not to settle into the same grooves and guitar crescendos that gave them their platform. Veering outside their formula worked magnificently on the follow-up, Z, two years later. Continuing the trend, however, backfired on the next two, Evil Urges and Circuital. Those albums are still decent additions in MMJ’s musical scope, but they’re lumpy, overinflated and only truly good in sections.

The Waterfall hones in more closely on the band’s strengths, but finds a newer psychedelic expanse where they have not yet been before. Their own Kentucky landscape still anchors their rootsy, woodsy, in-the-weeds sound, but here they find a more ethereal space to extend to. James gets high off Aurora Borealis fumes and it sounds so sweet.

James released his first solo album, Regions of Light and Sound of God, in 2013. The album finds James in a deep drift of meandering, drawn-out songs. That creative offshoot was a positive thing for this album. The songs on The Waterfall are more compact (save for the final two epics) and they find their hypnotic power instantly.

James looks inward on the well-wishing acoustic, “Get The Point.” He strums a hushed melody and sings directly to a true love that has since shed its truth. “I’m trying to tell you plainly how I’m feeling day to day,” he admits, “And I’m so sorry now that you ain’t feeling the same way.”

“Spring (Among the Living)” comes echoing off the canyon walls. Guitars twinkle like the opening lights of spring after an agonizing winter.”Thin Line” and the first single, “Big Decisions,” will both snuggle warmly into the setlists of the band’s tremendous live show.

By the time the contemplative “Only Memories Remain” falls into the tracklist The Waterfall has moved beyond the cliffs and rocks, downstream into a calming river flow. The album ends with the whiskers in Jim James’s beard burning down like dynamite fuses on “Tropics (Erase Traces)” and after ten songs, it’s time to find the path home.

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