There was a time early last decade, before embarking on a fantastic stylistic lark that that has at times suggested a meld of Sigur Rós and the Allman Brothers, when My Morning Jacket was still a country band. A loosely defined one perhaps, leaning more toward reverb-soaked strangeness than tears-in-your-beer orthodoxy, but one still significantly informed by the example and standards of the genre. The band has since grown out of most of these traits, ranging out into far more inimitable territory, but at times there’s nothing wrong with yearning for simpler things.
Enter Carl Broemel, the band’s guitarist, whose earthy but sweet new album seems to exist just for this purpose. All Birds Say, his second foray into solo territory, is as attached to traditional country precepts as the band’s early work, meaning that its inflected by these principles without fully embracing them. This sense of distance, apparent on the breezy “In the Garden,” its straight-laced drum hobble seared by an ethereal slide guitar, often has magnificent effects.
Other songs, like the equally languid “Questions,” seem entirely divorced from country influence, but the soul of that influence still maintains a guiding hand over the album’s progress. Broemel’s songs with My Morning Jacket work by expanding the customary scope of country songs, transposing the familiar sounds gleaned from a Kentucky upbringing over broad, breathy passages. The ones here do almost the opposite, drawing out small, recognizable bits—a twang here, a shuffle here—and stretching them out. These songs never race and ramble; they stroll lazily across the lawn and plop down into a chair. It’s a reinterpretation of the genre that feels completely in line with its core principles.
Unfortunately, this kind of languidness takes a toll. All Birds Say is worn down by its sluggishness and suffers overall from a surfeit of ineffectual good humor. A key offender is “Different People,” a lame ballad that aims for wisdom via inclusiveness but ends up sounding like a drugged, defanged Randy Newman track. All this homey positivity is not out of step with the sunny atmosphere established by the music, but it smears a thick layer of schmaltziness over an otherwise sterling effort.