Built solidly around lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Jim James, MMJ's sound has been a countrified-rock style with lots of reverb on James's vocals and soaring Neil Young & Crazy Horse-meets-Luna guitar work. This is their fourth album - their second for Dave Matthews' ATO Records - and with it they've released a career defining record. It's a work of great rock and a work of art that has the band poised and deserving to reach a wider audience.
Compared to their previous work, Z is an album that finds the Louisville band completely focused and pushing their own musical boundaries and peformances. There isn't a wasted note on the album. It clocks in at a respectable 51 minutes (less is more) and while Jim's voice is still slathered in reverb there is something about the way the album is produced that has finds his voice working as an instrument and complimenting the song structures and melodies. There's also a fair amount of well placed keyboards and stirring, soulful playing.
Much has been made in the press about the fact that for this record they left their backyard home recording studio and they worked with an outside producer for the first time - the legendary John Leckie. Leckie has been involved in some of the greatest all-time albums. Early in his career he engineered many records at Abbey Road including Pink Floyd. The Beatles and Mott The Hoople. He's produced records by The Posies, the classic Stone Roses debut, Radiohead, The Verve, XTC, Papa Wemba, Los Lobos, Dr. John, Roy Harper, new-wave favorites including Simple Minds, Public Image, and Let's Active. His roster of projects is almost too lengthy to quote here, but suffice to say he brought great wisdom and insight to the Z project. The fact that Leckie engineered George Harrison's All Things Must Pass was a sign that tipped James off to first working with him since Harrison's record is one of Jim James's favorites.
But great producers aside, the heart of Z finds a confident and inspired rock and roll band with great songs and sounds. Songs like "Off The Record," "Wordless Chorus," "Gideon," "Lay Low" and the 8-minute epic "Dondante" are some of the best recorded on any album by any band this year. With Z, MMJ bring the rock in a big way.
Written by Bruce Warren