Music Reviews
The Waterfall II

My Morning Jacket The Waterfall II

(ATO Records, LLC) Rating - 7/10

The Waterfall II comes at an unusual time for My Morning Jacket. Of course, calling anything "unusual" is a little bit of a stretch nowadays. But for the veteran Southern rockers, releasing the sequel to its 2015 predecessor five years later feels like revisiting a specific time that has long past. The story goes that My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James wanted to make a sprawling triple album before they decided against the idea out of fear of overwhelming their fans. And though there's never a perfect time to release a new album, framing it as a sequel and not as a collection of scrapped odds and ends reeks of opportunism.

Under less than capable hands, such a concept would be tricky to pull off. But we are talking about My Morning Jacket here, so the quality on display is unrivaled. The Waterfall lived up to its lofty ambitions, as the band navigated an enchanting patchwork of enchanting orchestral folk and winding prog rock. And that's just scratching the surface—by comparison, The Waterfall II is a little looser and rough around the edges. It's also a more overt attempt at sending a loving homage to their favorite pop songwriters, like the perky Climbing the Ladder, which sounds like a sped-up Tanya Tucker ballad. While on Beautiful Love (Wasn't Enough), James doesn't feel worthy of the love he receives over a light, Harry Nilsson-like melody.

Outside of these more succinct songs, My Morning Jacket allow themselves to let it rip when the time calls for it—especially during the album's second half. On Wasted, James plays a big, chunky riff offset by a soulful choir; and though the song's simple sentiment leaves much to be desired, that monster of a riff will one day become a staple of their live shows once we bid au revoir to all this COVID business. He's at his most thoughtful on The First Time, where he reflects on lessons learned as he tries to look forward over a laid-back jam-band groove. James has never been one for open-hearted confessions, but when he does, his words pucker like a healing wound.

It's nigh impossible to interpret where My Morning Jacket goes from here—though we'll know soon enough since James has been teasing a new album for 2021. So it's a pleasant surprise to see them revisiting a prolific period in their career that supports its predecessor due to its scattershot stylistic choices. But just like The Beatles' the White Album, which the album feels greatly inspired by, there's a lingering sense of 'what if' if all these parts would've integrated into a greater whole. As it stands, The Waterfall II could be described as a belated gift from a band who held back because they didn't keep the receipt.