My Morning Jacket draws fans with high-energy shows

Fri May 23, 2008 9:15pm EDT
 
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By Jonathan Cohen and Ray Waddell

NEW YORK/NASHVILLE (Billboard) - It's 4 a.m. on the last night of the South by Southwest music conference, and Jim James is belting out Rod Stewart's "You're in My Heart." A few hours earlier, the My Morning Jacket frontman dazzled an intimate crowd at an Austin church with a mostly solo acoustic set, and the full band's three other performances during the week were some of the most acclaimed of the industry event.

But of all the places James could be right now, it's a cozy terrace suite at Austin's famed Driskill Hotel, surrounded by a few close friends, a bucket of Miller Lites and an iPod, singing and analyzing songs into the wee hours. As he says the following week, "Music is everything."

That guiding principle has helped MMJ -- James, "Two-Tone" Tommy (bass), Patrick Hallahan (drums), Bo Koster (keyboards) and Carl Broemel (guitar) -- grow from humble roots in Louisville, Kentucky, into an American rock band that many feel is poised to take it to the proverbial next level in the months ahead.

It's true that the best-laid marketing plans are no substitute for enthusiastic word-of-mouth, and the buzz around MMJ is at a fever pitch. The reason? Beyond MMJ's ever-building reputation for epic live performances, there's tremendous excitement surrounding the band's fifth album, "Evil Urges," due June 10 via ATO.

In Austin, MMJ played more than half of the material on the new set, which the quintet conceptualized during an intense songwriting session last summer in Colorado and then recorded in Manhattan last winter. A month later, when the band played the Coachella festival in Indio, California, five of its 11 songs were off the new album, and another five were from its previous studio album, "Z."

Even with live performances that send fans into orbit and critically acclaimed albums, MMJ has not yet achieved widespread arena-headlining status or platinum sales success. But the band's camp and its many supporters in the music industry at large seem to cherish MMJ's dark-horse status, believing that a band that takes a while to develop is building the solid foundation for a decades-long career.

COMMUNAL EXPERIENCE

"The press is now regularly tagging My Morning Jacket as 'the greatest live band,' 'best band in the world' or some version of that," Scott Clayton, the band's agent at Creative Artists Agency, says. "That type of over-the-top hype is usually a concern for any artist, but after seeing these guys perform as many times as I have, I am very comfortable with their ability to live up to those labels."   Continued...