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My Morning Jacket's World

My Morning Jacket's World

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First and foremost, there's that voice: soaring, otherworldly, graceful, and stuck halfway between choirboy and celestial apparition. Frontman Jim James' striking balance of grandeur and fragility is almost always the first thing the uninitiated notice when first encountering My Morning Jacket's music. Just as vital, however, are the sounds surrounding it; they're expansive the way James' voice is sublime. One could argue that outside The Flaming Lips and Wilco, no other American band has traveled so much sonic terrain. Indeed, since releasing their debut album, 1999's The Tennessee Fire, My Morning Jacket have torn through genres with all the fierceness of the Beats zooming about the country in the early 1950s.

My Morning Jacket hail from Louisville, Ky. -- where Middle America, the South and the Midwest all collide -- so they obviously know their roots- and folk-rock (qualities that really come out on 2003 breakout It Still Moves). Yet the group has also forayed into lo-fi dream pop, wall-of-sound psychedelia, straight-up '60s nostalgia, electro-blue-eyed soul and good old hard rock. Then come those moments when they attempt to bring all these ideas and styles together, as on 2005's Z, which is basically the sound of a band erecting a colossal, echo-laden cathedral … and we're back to that spiritual motif again.

In the last few years, James has begun working outside the confines of My Morning Jacket. Along with M. Ward, Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis, he cofounded the supergroup Monsters of Folk, who released their debut full-length back in 2009. Moreover, he just dropped his first solo record, Regions of Light and Sound of God. Both albums find the singer distancing himself from his main gig's earthy psychedelia, and instead pushing his love for folk directness and ornate soul pop to the foreground. The one thing that hasn't changed, though, is that voice. Soaring, otherworldly, graceful.