Published Jul 15, 2020To record what would become 2015's The Waterfall and 2020's The Waterfall II, My Morning Jacket decamped to a hilltop mansion in Stinson Beach. Between the gorgeous coastal California surroundings, frontman Jim James penning two albums worth of material while recovering from a herniated disc, and the group taking a more modern approach to writing and arranging, the sessions culminated in one of their strongest catalogue entries to date.
Ultimately, The Waterfall wasn't released as a double-disc effort — and some songs now included here found their way out in the years in between. But it would be a disservice to consider the long-awaited The Waterfall II merely scraps from the cutting room floor.
Where the first album was an achievement in songwriting and sequencing with James's emotional material, its sequel finds him and his bandmates a little looser, with feel and feelings informing an instrumental approach that recording in an area where Jerry Garcia once lived demands.
James makes that much clear on stunning opener "Spinning My Wheels" as he sings, "I've been wrong for so long / Risking my life for the sake of the song." At once, it's a clever line that references his back injury while setting the listener up for further reflection on the importance of being present, stopping to breathe, and healing.
It's a mindset James applies to songs of love and relationships past. "Beautiful Love (Wasn't Enough)" finds him asking, "Why is my bitter heart so demanding?" before wondering, "Why can't I be more understanding?" The gentle hand drums and campfire vocals of "Run It" lead him to declare, "If you ain't too kind, you ain't my type / I'm gonna run you out the door." Amidst some tempo changes that follow the jaunty riff of "Climbing the Ladder," James affirms that "All of the hardest lessons / You gotta learn for yourself."
The Waterfall II's best musical moments are when My Morning Jacket stretch their newfound digital arrangement methods to embrace both the jam and multiple musical influences. "Still Thinkin" revels in its sunshine pop stomp before the sun sets for its starry outro, while "Feel You" invites listeners to lose themselves in its slowness, guided primarily by the leaping guitar arpeggio that runs throughout.
"Magic Bullet," which saw release as a single in 2016, pairs James' pressure cooker lyrics with horn accents, strings and guitars, all guided by a steady drum beat. Late-listen burner "Wasted" cedes its middle section to a keyboard jam and some more bombast led by guitar and horn, before dialing up the sleaze even further for a crashing close.
Much of this material would be hard pressed to directly sweep anything off The Waterfall in its wake, but the The Waterfall II is enjoyable closure to those who will soon turn to anticipate the next new album My Morning Jacket have on deck.