My Morning Jacket

At Dawn (Darla Records)

I had written this record off as too easy. Lead singer/songwriter Jim James's heart-o'-gold voice so expertly mimics Neil Young's -- right down to that constant sense of aching that hovers under the surface of every single nasally drawl Young spouts -- that I wanted to throw it aside in disgust and extreme mockery, as I do with most Young product. (I know, let the whipping begin.) But damn this record; I keep playing bits of it often. Helpless, helpless, helpless indeed.

The album peaks early, with the first four songs working best together, almost mustering up a dense magic akin to recent Flaming Lips or Mercury Rev releases: nasal tenor-boy vocals over lush, orchestral textures, but in this case they're more imbued with a decidedly country-and-western flavor. The third track, "The Way That He Sings," sounds like a bad Enya-penned Irish Spring television commercial or maybe one of those new world order Global Bank ads, but I like it anyway (against my better judgment). By the time "Death Is the Easy Way" comes on with its "'Cause nothin' gets you high/You're poor the day you die/And alcohol only makes you tired" lines, a listener is prone to be easily swept away, at least until that Youngian harmonica kicks in and ruins it all to hell. Expecting to fly, the album crashes from here on out.

I initially was willing to go the whole distance with this record, but oh, the damage done. When the song "Hopefully" arrives and builds to its full Harvest Moonstride, draped in a way-too-dramatic church-hall-corridor reverb, James leads his crazy horses through a series of country-fried Parsons/Young-inspired numbers that begs the question: Why? My world is already free, and I rock quite a bit, thank you. It's too bad, for there are some haunting and memorable songs here for sure, but where does an influence end and straight-up cribbing begin?

Long may you run, Morning Star... far, far away. If you do choose to come back across the water, please leave Cortez down by the river.

 
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