My Morning Jacket
* * * 1/2
THE Louisville band's fourth album is a mass of a million brilliant details, a shimmering mosaic with its feet in Americana mud and its head in the stars. The group has been hanging around the vital center of American indie rock for a few years now, particularly singer and songwriter Jim James, who collaborates with Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst and who represented the kids at last year's Gram Parsons tribute concerts.
There's still some of Parsons' "cosmic American music" ideal coursing through My Morning Jacket, but "Z" (due in stores Tuesday) moves away from the more overt Band and "The Notorious Byrd Brothers" references, closer to a convergence of Who-like playfulness and drive with R.E.M. mystery.
With new members Carl Broemel and Bo Koster on guitar and keyboards, respectively, and with Englishman John Leckie co-producing with James, every sound on "Z" is bell-clear and perfectly placed. Its textures are tightly woven but free to breathe, the tendons of the rhythm section never allowed to slacken.
It creates a worthy frame for James' echo-bathed voice, one of the highest and most distinctive in rock. He still tends to hide in the mix instead of stepping out to anchor the songs. Maybe that's why the music seems to remain at a slight emotional distance. All the band needs is tinkering to turn its gleaming edifice into an inviting home.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.