Album of the Week: My Morning Jacket, 'The Waterfall II'

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My Morning Jacket, 'The Waterfall II'
My Morning Jacket, 'The Waterfall II' (ATO Records)
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When My Morning Jacket released The Waterfall in 2015, they hinted that they had an entire second album's worth of material also ready for release. Given by how busy the band members have stayed over the last half-decade, one would be forgiven that said music got absorbed into other projects, whether one of the solo albums by Jim James or Carl Broemel, or perhaps the members' collaboration with Ray LaMontagne for 2016's Ouroboros. Lo and behold, though, the band announced the surprise release of The Waterfall II this summer.

It's easy to interpret the release of The Waterfall II as an appeal to the comfort zones of listeners beleagured by the mere act of being alive in 2020, and the album thankfully pushes all these appropriate pleasure buttons.

Opener "Spinning My Wheels" features a similar spaciness to the Ouroboros material, perhaps a cheeky rebuke to anyone worried that MMJ are falling into a rut. "Beautiful Love (Wasn't Enough)" and "Still Thinkin" both enter the same uncanny-valley Beach Boys vibe as Wilco's Summerteeth, while the country-rock "Climbing the Ladder" continues the keep-on-keepin'-on theme by indicating that James and co. still have plenty of great tunes in the well. "Feel You" features a tremendous guitar solo that is puzzlingly truncated for radio, but stands with any similar pyrotechnics from their back catalog.

As with virtually every 2020 release, many of the songs for The Waterfall II were clearly designed for a live setting, but all we can do at this point is close our eyes and imagine which ones would light up a festival field. It's easy to imagine a "Wasted" jam that stretches beyond the 10-minute mark, while "Magic Bullet" is a slow-burner that could easily wrap up a main set. "The First Time" is itself an atypical closer in name, but provides reassuring energy to close things out.

The Waterfall IIwinds up standing strong not only as a companion to The Waterfall, but among the rest of the My Morning Jacket library, and will serve as an excellent soundtrack to our remaining summer evenings.

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