In 2004, a dreamy cover of "Rocket Man" concluded My Morning Jacket's first volume of rarities. Which was prescient, because it's Elton John that Jim James' songs for 2005's Z first bring to mind. From the wistful recollection of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" to Honky Chateau's melodic and genre explorations, John's ability to mesh styles and take detours within his sturdy pop songwriting applies to James here, particularly in the expansive opener, "Wordless Chorus," or the initial happy-go-lucky lilt of "Off the Record." Z is My Morning Jacket's fourth full-length (and second for ATO), and it's the one that might finally jump-start the reaction that James' music has always deserved. It Still Moves from 2003 rightly enjoyed its accolades, but it meandered a little structurally, too, and sometimes got a little lost in its own reverb. On Z, MMJ's traditional influences are present -- the folk, blues, and country tones of John, Neil Young, and the Band shaded by contemporaries like Mercury Rev and Mark Kozelek. But songs like "Lay Low" and "It Beats for You" are crafted tighter, their sound-drenched keyboard lines meeting the percussion head on and riding meaningful flourishes of electric guitar. "Gideon" climaxes in James calling out throatily over twinkling piano and big chords borrowed from the Who, and "What a Wonderful Man" is a raucous, crashing tumble of unhinged crash cymbals, barroom piano, and mirthful yelping. Z is intuitive, intensely creative, classicist-minded, nearly flawless. It's music that's extruded from Jim James' id, and that's bearded, too.
AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus