2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: AT DAWN (Audio CD)
The first thing you notice when listening to `At Dawn' if, like me, you've approached their back catalogue, er, backwards, is how faithful it is to a kind of alt-country orthodoxy when compared to the more magpie-like tendencies of `It Still Moves' and `Z'. Arguably it is more a consistency of mood than genre, given that it rarely rocks out in the ways that they later afforded themselves, but their sultry Kentucky twangcore does embrace languid Beach Boys harmonies and reggae among other appropriated musical tinges. The tempo is invariably unhurried and spacious, all reverb and humid ambience - there is a palpable sense of Kentucky's electrically-charged summer air - even if the sound is a little more polished than that of its successor.
Once again, `At Dawn' sees Jim James and co. touch upon classic Americana, country and blues; sometimes swampily Southern ('Honest Man'), sometimes gently psychedelic (the title track), and often infused with an aching melancholy ('Death Is The Easy Way', `Bermuda Highway', `It Smashes Down'). Where My Morning Jacket really excel, though, is less in the aural signifiers that evoke their influences than in the timeless quality to their songwriting. Some songs smoulder and slowly develop their own character with repeated listens, others - the poignant Americana of 'Lowdown' and `Bermuda Highway, for instance, or the dream pop of `The Way That He Sings' - already seem strangely familiar in that unique way that classic songs do.
There are several individual moments of sublimity, not least feeling the hairs go up on the back of your neck hearing Jim James sing "Don't let your silly dreams, fall in between ..." ('Bemuda Highway' again), or equally the paradoxically Caribbean-flavoured `X-mas Curtain', which features a steal-drum climax so beautifully off-beat and poignantly out of place against James' tales of poverty and theft. While `At Dawn' goes on a little too long and tails away somewhat towards the end, the fact that MMJ haven't been more broadly recognised is not so much as a mystery but a crime.