What do you do with a Southern rock band that insists on recording epic albums employing everything from accordions and congas to distorted industrial beats, who dare to merge stratospherically high-pitched, Dirty Mind—era Prince funk with Devo? What about when that Southern rock band plays three hours of material at this year's Bonnaroo festival, including covers of songs by Erykah Badu and Mötley Crüe?

Removing the "Southern rock" label would be a good start. Louisville, Ky.'s My Morning Jacket have been dogged by the genre tag virtually since their inception, and it was unfairly applied from the start. Before they released their masterpiece, Z, in 2005, singer Jim James and his four bandmates released two albums that make clear why they bristle at the notion of being placed in the same category as Lynyrd Skynyrd or the Allman Brothers Band. Early Recordings: Chapters 1 & 2 showcased the band's formative (and very much not Southern rock) years with early demos and live recordings. Songs like "I Just Wanted to Be Your Friend," which sounds like a lo-fi Thom Yorke, the coulda-been Pet Sounds outtake "Why Don't U Love Me," the big-beat drum & bass of "Nothing 2 Me" and the creepiest version of "Dream a Little Dream of Me" ever put to tape all went far in proving that MMJ can't be tied down. Chapter 2's "Tonite I Want 2 Celebrate w/You!" even verged on R&B territory.

"I love that song. In fact, that's one of the ones I'm hoping to work into this tour," says My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan. He admits that the release of the early songs was pointed directly at music journalists. "The whole ‘Southern-fried' thing, I think that was a result of lazy journalism."

When Z became one of the most critically acclaimed albums of its year, the band decided to take their time with a follow-up and further explore their hidden influences. The result, this year's Evil Urges, was a stunning departure from anything resembling musical coherence. Apparently, their "urges" had much to do with a closet love for Krautrock, go-go funk and adult contemporary.

"`The recording sessions` were definitely a little nerve-wracking," says Hallahan. "We would just think, ‘What the hell are people gonna make of this?' But it's been assuring `on tour` to see people dancing and singing, and wanting to hear what we want to hear as well."

That includes the Prince-aping "Highly Suspicious," a divisively experimental track from Urges that has received a drubbing in the press. Hallahan maintains there was never a moment in which it wasn't going to be included on the album.

"That was absolutely intentional," he laughs. "You wanna talk about splitting a crowd right down the middle. The sheer puzzlement on some of their faces! It's always been our philosophy to let the new stuff grow legs and find a place in the live realm."

"Any reaction is a good reaction, honestly. Indifference is the only thing we get nervous about."


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