My Morning Jacket
eleased almost a year after Wilco's Kicking Television, My Morning Jacket’s Okonokos is incredibly similar in purpose. The band’s discography isn't rifled for rarities, songs aren't drastically reimagined, and there aren't any surprise covers. Rather, Okonokos showcases the stage prowess and cohesiveness of MMJ’s retooled, keyboard-heavy lineup and serves as a victory lap for a four-album run that vaulted them to a level of success they richly deserve.
The tracklist assumes that most My Morning Jacket fans jumped on the bandwagon somewhere around At Dawn (which is probably true); all but two songs on Okonokos are from their last three studio albums. Z gets treated with the most reverence—the band goes so far as to play its first three songs verbatim in exact order. It's a bit disappointing: both "It Beats for You" and "Gideon" had open-ended codas that felt like they would explode in a live setting. But even without John Leckie's studio sheen, the more expansive selections from Z retain their airy mystery and lithesome rhythmic interplay,
Okonokos is free of the prickly ballads that caused past efforts to sag, making it easier to get through despite the album’s two hours-plus run-time. And though the much-hallowed reverb gives the slower numbers in their catalog an appropriately dreamy and high lonesome sound, it does it to the rockers as well. You'd never know that My Morning Jacket are all flying hair and Flying V's, the type of group you watch for the first time and think, "this is what a rock band should be." There was nothing wrong with "The Way He Sings" and "Lowdown" being contemplative and sun-splashed on At Dawn, but free from grain silo captivity, they turn into the kind of classic(ist) rock most considered to be extinct. My Morning Jacket is far more song-oriented than the Dixie demigods that they're often likened to, but it's hard not to listen to the trilling solos on "One Big Holiday" and "Lay Low" without hearing Skynyrd or the Allmans.
In fact, the term "jam band" doesn't become appropriate until Disc 2. "Dondante" clocks in at 11 seismic minutes (as does the seemingly endless "Steam Engine") and is followed up by a colossal run through of "Run Thru." Already a lumbering mammoth, "Run Thru" is screwed down to near free-time and further emphasizes its debt to "Since I've Been Loving You" (right down to the placeholder lyrics). But the sleepier half ends with a trifecta of ragged glory; "Dancefloors," "Anytime," and (especially) "Mahgeeta" tease the audience into wanting more.
As an introductory My Morning Jacket mixtape, Okonokos is top-shelf. That being said, the best two-and-a-half hours of music I've experienced in the past few years happened on a summer night in Athens when My Morning Jacket absolutely torched the 40 Watt. Stories like these are not uncommon. Okonokos may be doing its damnedest, but in the end, it's a My Morning Jacket album. And while their albums turn listeners into disciples, nearly every show turns disciples into true believers.