My Morning Jacket puts out its best album to date

Evil Urges, plus CDs by Cassandra Wilson and Solomon Burke

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Evil Urges



Pundits have been trying to define My Morning Jacket since the band first arrived on the scene a decade ago. In the beginning, people filed the reverb-loving rockers under "alt-country" and even "Southern rock," thanks to the band's Bluegrass State home base. A galvanizing 2004 performance at Bonnaroo and subsequent, more experimental releases, especially 2006's live album Okonokos, landed My Morning Jacket in the "jam band" bin.

But none of the labels did the quintet's music justice, and MMJ's latest, Evil Urges, is the band's most gloriously eclectic studio album to date. It's also the band's finest, with each stylistic leap serving the song rather than sounding like hubris-driven experimentalism. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than on the title track that opens the disc, a thick yet fluid hybrid of futuristic funk, precision prog and dreamy pop that serves as a genius update on the free love and tolerance ethos of the 1960s. Frontman Jim James adopts a sexy falsetto to winningly deliver memorable lines like, "It ain't evil, baby, if ya ain't hurting anybody."

On the equally horny "Highly Suspicious," James soars again, crooning like Prince over a thumping backbeat. The song's addictive quality is off the chart, a pop fix unlike anything in the band's canon. Rather amazingly, Evil Urges also features tracks such as "Sec Walkin," a slice of steel-guitar-kissed space-rock that floats through the speakers like a Day-Glo tumbleweed. On the shimmering midtempo number "Two Halves," James addresses the aging process with the sagacity and good humor of a contented man old enough to put youth's charms in perspective.

The body image subject matter of the acoustic-guitar-and-strings profile "Librarian" is as fascinating as it is heart-wrenching. "Karen of the Carpenters, singing in the rain," James intones, his reedy voice teeming with pathos, "another lovely victim of the mirror's evil way." A couple of tracks later, MMJ blasts with the first-rate arena rocker (replete with guitar-hero solo) "Aluminum Park," a song that begs for singing along, fist-pumping and cellphone-waving.

Many bands have aspired to genre-busting greatness in recent years, but few, if any, have succeeded so thoroughly as MMJ does with Evil Urges, easily one of the most diverse and satisfying albums to emerge in the new millennium. It's filler-free and proves more rewarding with each listen. In fact, it's hard to imagine MMJ or any other American rock act — Wilco included — topping this album in the foreseeable future. 5 stars —Wade Tatangelo



(Blue Note)

After six albums for Blue Note working the outer edges of jazz — with an emphasis on the swampy blues of her native Mississippi — Cassandra Wilson unveils her first album of standards for the label. Loverly sticks to a pretty traditional repertoire, including stately ballads like "The Very Thought of You" and "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most;" sprite swing tunes "Lover Come Back to Me" and "Wouldn't It Be Loverly;" and some more rhythmically adventurous approaches: for instance, a modern-funky "St. James Infirmary." Wilson and company even tackle Robert Johnson's "Dust My Broom," giving it a smoldering Latin treatment. Her dusky contralto caresses each of these tunes — with little in the way of grandstanding or artifice. It's a classily restrained performance. Maybe too much so. The too-restrained part also applies to her band, anchored by pianist extraordinaire Jason Moran. In fact, Loverly is more polite than it should be. It's a perfectly listenable set of tunes but misses the sense of discovery of Wilson's best work. 3 stars —Eric Snider

Like a Fire


(Shout! Factory)

In 2002, soul-singing icon Solomon Burke captured lightning in a bottle with Don't Give Up on Me, a collection of songs written by the likes of Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits and Brian Wilson, sparsely produced by Joe Henry. In the years since, Burke has tried to recapture the magic via a disc that returned to conventional R&B (Make Do With What You Got) and a country record (Nashville), with very limited success. And now there's Like a Fire, another miss. Producer/drummer Steve Jordan (Buddy Guy, John Mayer's Continuum) gathered a bunch of ace studio players and crafted workmanlike arrangements. The main problem is ho-hum material (including a couple of adult contemporary duds by Eric Clapton) that doesn't seem to engage the 68-year-old Burke, who still shows off formidable pipes but fails to infuse the songs with his trademark passion. 2 stars —ES

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