The Waterfall II

My Morning Jacket

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The Waterfall II Review

by Mark Deming

In 2015, My Morning Jacket released their ambitious yet uneven album The Waterfall, ten songs that pushed their stylistic eclecticism to a point where they sometimes sounded unfocused and in need of a stronger unifying vision. The Waterfall was followed by several years of quiet from MMJ, with no new releases and less than ten shows played between 2017 and 2020, all while leader Jim James largely focused on his solo career, delivering five albums between 2016 and 2019. In 2020, My Morning Jacket finally returned with new music, but there was a catch. At one point, MMJ was considering making The Waterfall a three-LP set, and they recorded more than enough material to fill a second album. So five years after the original album arrived, The Waterfall II presents ten songs My Morning Jacket opted not to include in the original edition. If you're a fan of the group and curious if they have a future, bringing out a set of outtakes half a decade old is hardly going to make their loyalists feel optimistic. That said, from a simple standpoint of quality, The Waterfall II feels like a step up from the first album. Even though these songs take fewer chances, they put the focus on MMJ's strengths, showing them doing what they do best rather than getting lost on detours that are only so rewarding. (My Morning Jacket has enough stylistic colors in their palette that they need not worry about finding themselves in a rut.) The performances here are strong and confident, whether they're nailing a spaced-out country shuffle on "Climbing the Ladder," dipping into laid-back psychedelia on "Still Thinkin'," calling up a lonely late-night mood on "Beautiful Love (Wasn't Enough)," turning up the guitars for a chunky jam on "Wasted," or opening their hearts with the gentle acoustic arrangement of "Welcome Home." And as much as Jim James' vocals are central to this music, The Waterfall II is a My Morning Jacket album, and the interplay between him and his bandmates is rich and satisfying, a reminder of just why this band matters to so many. The Waterfall II offers no clues as to where My Morning Jacket might be headed, but as a document of what they were capable of in the studio, it's consistent, well-structured, and satisfying in a way the original was not.

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