OK, I'll just come out and say it. I never really "got" My Morning Jacket. I mean, I listened to The Tennessee Fire and At Dawn and It Still Moves and even this thing called the Sweatbees EP that allmusic didn't have listed as an official release, and I tried to understand what the fuss was about. I thought they were all good releases, but did they touch my soul and reveal MMJ as the second coming of the great Americana/roots/blues/southern rock powerhouses of the days of yore? No. They just didn't. The idea of the band was great. A bunch of friends recording music together in a barn outside of Louisville, KY, making a sweeping, melodic blend of alt-country, indie rock and jam-tastic music. Now that is something that resonates with me quite well. As I said, the "idea" of them was great, but even though it may hurt my indie cred, I just wasn't feeling the uber-reverb-drenched vocals of group leader Jim James - at least not for 10 or 12 straight songs. That's why when I received an advanced copy of MMJ's latest effort, Z, I was expecting more of the same - Neil Young mixed with the Allman Brothers and all drenched in a truckload of reverb-filled vocals - but this time... oh ladies and gentlemen, this time it was different. The wall of reverb that I subconsciously felt shielded James' undeniable song writing talent had been torn down as if Ronald Regan himself had commanded it. It was altogether different, yet unquestionably My Morning Jacket.

Album opener "Wordless Chorus" begins with a low pounding musical heartbeat then kicks in with soft-spoken drums, organ and the untainted vocals of Jim James. Oddly enough, the chorus is just a series of "Ahhhhhs" (hence the title) and then the whole thing wraps up with James singing in an incredibly high falsetto a-la Prince or Beck circa "Debra". Z continues to surprise throughout. Whether it's the Flaming Lips-esque bass line of "It Beats For You", the sing-a-long chorus and '80s action TV show theme-sounding guitar lick on "Off The Record" or the "For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite"-sounding circus sounds and samples of the Sgt. Peppers inspired "Into The Woods", a new treat lurks behind every corner. It seems that critics have been quick to call each new My Morning Jacket their best, but this time, I finally agree with them.

Z is an album that can make My Morning Jacket a household name. It will surprise those who have been quick to dismiss the band as "hippie music", yet it maintains the integrity, passion and most importantly, the fantastic songwriting that has already driven legions of dedicated fans to My Morning Jacket over the years. Finally! I "get it."

My Morning Jacket
ATO/RCA

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