The hum of an everyday mysticism has always been part of the deal for My Morning Jacket, but it resonates louder than usual on “The Waterfall.” Don’t mistake it for a problem. All those lyrics about openness, about flow, about mind-body dualism — they suit this band perfectly, along with cavernous reverb and heavy-foot midrange tempos.
That much becomes clear on the album’s curtain-raiser, “Believe (Nobody Knows),” whose title effectively spoils the plot. “Believe,” Jim James urges four times in the chorus, ascending halfway up a major scale. Then, with feeling, “Nobody knows!” Is that an admission? A reassurance? It doesn’t matter; James is saying, as succinctly as he can, that the absence of proof lays the bedrock for belief.
“The Waterfall” is My Morning Jacket’s seventh studio album, and a consolidation of its strengths, a hunk of substantiation for a believing fan base. Like the band’s 2011 album, “Circuital,” which was a self-conscious return to form after some clanky experiments, this one was produced by James with engineer Tucker Martine.
The band — James and Carl Broemel on guitars, Tom Blankenship on bass, Bo Koster on keyboards and Patrick Hallahan on drums — long ago set the hazy but four-square dimensions of its style. Some of these tracks, like “Compound Fracture,” evoke 1970s commercial rock, complete with blended “oohs.” (Among the backup singers are Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes and Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards.) Other tracks, like “Spring (Among the Living),” which gravely hails the changing of the seasons, feel designed for maximum liftoff on big stages.
Given that James is the principal source of earnest wonderment in the band, it’s startling to come across “Get the Point,” a polite-but-firm breakup song, and “Big Decisions,” in which he exasperatedly sings, “I don’t quite feel like faking it again tonight.” A deceptively easygoing tune called “Thin Line” hinges on a refrain sung in a buttery falsetto: “Well, it’s a thin line/ Between lovin’ and wasting my time.”
And the album closes with “Only Memories Remain,” a bittersweet ballad in the style of George Harrison, one of James’ acknowledged models. It’s a relationship elegy, but also a fond remembrance, and a reminder that love, too, should be a leap of faith.
Nate Chinen, New York Times News Service