It's already a pretty good joke that My Morning Jacket portray a wedding band covering Lynyrd Skynyrd's ''Freebird'' in director Cameron Crowe's upcoming film Elizabethtown. The jest will seem even funnier after folks hear Z, the Louisville, Ky., band's fourth studio album, because MMJ now sound about as much like an archetypal Southern rock band as does, say, Ornette Coleman.
Effectively severing any remaining ties to their putative boogie roots, MMJ have come to embody a strange, pleasing paradox: They evoke the musical essence of various titans while achieving a wholly distinctive sound of their own. Thus, ''Wordless Chorus,'' the beatific opener, is an eerie conflation of Neil Young and Curtis Mayfield, while ''Knot Comes Loose'' is like some lost Motown classic adapted by a bunch of visionary folkies. ''Lay Low'' manages to capture the sound of The Band channeling Sam Cooke (and throws in one of those spiraling, galvanic guitar solos guaranteed to get stuck on instant replay in your head). Meanwhile, the delightfully wacky ''Off the Record'' is appealingly warped pop-reggae topped off with, of all things, a surf-rock hook. (Cowabunga, mon!)
But it's that subtle yet unmistakable '60s soul vibe running through just about everything here that keeps us coming back to Z. And since soul is an ingredient too many young bands either forget, ignore, or will never have, we feel moved to give MMJ our warmest, period-appropriate expression of approbation a hearty ''Right on!''