Review Summary: My Morning Jacket's first album is filled with lovesick, pastoral tunes that reach out to the most forlorn among us.
My Morning Jacket have never used pretense to get their messages across. Their songwriting is deeply personal and sincere, no matter what style of music they're employing. In the last decade this band went on to create some of the most stimulating sounds in modern rock and roll. Their first endeavor, The Tennessee Fire
, introduces their potent emotional core without the protective walls of decorative production and paints a picture of heartache and yearning.
It's easy to point out the lacking production on this record, but the austerity of the overall sound itself makes the lo-fi aspect almost essential. Scattered throughout The Tennessee Fire
are grainy bits of fuzz and what often sounds like musicians performing while huddled in front of a single small microphone. Nonetheless, the emotive stories told by these pastoral songs do not necessitate clean production. In what amounts to a depressing, somber package, My Morning Jacket write a series of tattered, lovesick tunes that consolidate alternative and country influences tastefully and tenderly.
One of the album's crowning achievements is the multitude of vocal harmonies. Jim James's heartwarming voice towers above downcast melodies as a soothing remedy for the forlorn and the forgotten. His vocals reach a capstone on "The Bear", for example, as he pleads with a despondent friend to hold on to life and compassionately sings, "There's still time." Thus, beneath the disheartened vibes of this album are traces of reassurance and sympathy. These traces can be found in the uplifting, seraphic background vocals of songs like "Heartbreakin Man" and "They Ran". However, these glimmers of hope are often eclipsed by a sense of loss and a growing state of loneliness.
Weighing in at 16 tracks, The Tennessee Fire
unfortunately contains some tracks that aren't as impactful as others. The strongest sequence of tracks comes toward the middle of the album, where My Morning Jacket reach an apex of introspective angst. On "War Begun", "Old Sept. Blues," and "If All Else Fails", the band realize their ability for simple but candid love songs under difficult circumstances. In addition. "It's About Twilight Now" is a catchy, ragged jam in which the band takes on an electric edge with heavier guitar and more raspy vocals. A passionate gem comes in the form of "Evelyn Is Not Real", which balances their sweetness with their penchant for effervescent arrangements. The track seamlessly shifts between a twangy, heartbroken sound and bridge with a zealous guitar solo, giving an expressive dynamic to the song's crux of anxiety.
The record tends to skew toward the softer side, making for an easy listen filled with unassuming melodies and relatable themes embedded within the lyrics. Occasionally, though, the album does tend to drag on. Some tracks, such as "Butch Cassidy" are undeniably relaxing but lack the unique flavor of the middle of the album, making them feel redundant. Regardless of its shortcomings, The Tennessee Fire
presents a profound wave of sentiment. Much of this comes from the beautiful vocals, and a chunk of it comes from the album's air of innocence. While My Morning Jacket struggle at times on the album with consistency, their spirit is both enriching and remarkable.
Looking at The Tennessee Fire
alone, it is clear that the band has a lot going for it. The "hands-off" production of this album lends itself to songs that are incorruptible in their earnestness. Luckily, My Morning Jacket was only getting started, and the best was yet to come.
Evelyn Is Not Real
If All Else Fails
It's About Twilight Now
Old Sept. Blues