As I’ve stated in past posts, I have developed a borderline obsession with My Morning Jacket. Because of their nearly flawless blend of a vast array of musical styles, no other band not named Wilco has any right to suggest itself as America’s best band of the moment.
But aside from their amazing musical catalog, I have discovered in recent months the band also has an impressively extensive list of covers. While I suspect it’s of little interest to anyone else (you know, like everything I write), I’ve compiled a list of my five favorites.
5. Blue Moon
Originally Performed by: About 6,500 different artists.
What generally makes a great cover is when a band takes an old song and makes it their own. That said, sometimes they do something that doesn’t sound even remotely like anything they’ve ever done and it comes out sounding awesome anyway.
That’s what MMJ did with this oft-covered ballad which has been around since the 1930’s. In fact, this take is so groovacious, you’ll be too busy boogieing on down that you won’t even mind that people have been watching and laughing at you through the window of your very visible downtown office. Mind your own business Kentland, Indiana town attorney Pat Ryan!
4. Goin’ to Acapulco
Originally performed by: Bob Dylan and The Band
I’ll admit this one is a bit of a cheat, as it’s not actually a My Morning Jacket cover, but rather one recorded by MMJ frontman Jim James with Calexico from the compelling and misunderstood Dylan biopic I’m Not There. But seeing as how we’re dealing with a collaboration by both a personal idol of mine (Dylan) and the group whose name usually comes up when I search for a convenient answer to the “who does My Morning Jacket sound like?” question (The Band), I have no problem breaking the rules.
Also making my decision easier is the fact that this rendition is just plain amazing. It only enhances my belief that if the lyrical genius of Dylan and the vocal transcendence of James were ever combined into a singular person, it would make all other music obsolete.
3. All The Best
Originally Performed by: John Prine
Again I am manipulating my own rule set with this entry. While a studio recorded cover of this song can be found on the John Prine Tribute Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows, I don’t feel that version is My Morning Jacket at its best.
What makes this list-worthy is the breathtaking duet James recorded with the alt-country legend on The Late Show With David Letterman last May. Stripped down to its most basic elements, Prine and James delivered an almost awe-inspiring performance that proves sometimes the sparsest of music can often times be the most effective.
2. Rocket Man
Originally Performed by: Elton John
“Rocket Man” is one of those songs that you listen to and you just get it. It’s not at all difficult to decipher why it has become such a landmark song. Therefore, to some it may sound like sacrilege to even hear of a cover version, let alone one that could possible be better.
And yet, I have no problem claiming MMJ’s version even more sublime than Elton John’s far-from-overrated original. As was the case with “All The Best,” this version benefits greatly from a lo-fi approach that ads a layer of ambient beauty that is irresistible.
I fully attribute the usage of this song (MMJ’s version) at the end of Californication’s pilot episode for convincing me that the whinny, narcissistic scumbag characters of that show were worth following for two full seasons. That sort of power speaks for itself.
Originally Performed by: Erykah Badu
Listening to the two songs consecutively, I chose “Tyrone” over “Rocket Man” not necessarily because it’s better but because what it accomplishes is much more difficult. James and company took a jilted lover’s anthem written entirely from the female perspective and somehow made it into something much greater than a weird joke.
At first listen it is sort of funny to hear James sing about having to “reach down in my purse to pay your way, and your homeboy’s way and sometimes your cousin’s way,” but as you listen on, it stops being funny and starts becoming really, really awesome.
And ultimately, the ability to blend soulful R&B with a sort of Americana type rock is just another reminder of why My Morning Jacket is so remarkably good and why it’s foolish to think there is a musical genre out there they would be unable to conquer.