By Mike Ayers
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Southern rock act My Morning Jacket call their sixth album "Circuital".
But rather than coming full circle after 13 years, the five piece band drifting away from their rock roots for songs that blend R&B, funk and a handful of nostalgia laden tunes.
"It's been our most peaceful record to date," Jim James, guitarist/vocalist of the Louisville, Kentucky band, told Reuters ahead of the album's release on Tuesday. "It's been the most unified that we've ever felt."
Through slower tempos and adding different sonic elements, My Morning Jacket have achieved a record that sounds mature, and feels more consistent than 2008's "Evil Urges."
"I hate to say that I've gotten sick of the guitar, but the size of the guitar takes up so much space that can be used for other things," James said.
"Whether it's different vocal treatments or keyboards or even just air. My favorite instrument on the new record is the air in the church where we recorded. When you put a lot of guitars in it, it eats the air up."
Formed in 1998 by James, My Morning Jacket have become an enduring presence in the U.S. rock scene, headlining large festivals and playing big arenas. Part of their success is their cross-over appeal: they're consistent hits with critics, indie fans and jam band fans as well.
Inevitably, the band's longevity seeps into "Circuital" with a handful of songs about memory and letting go.
Most obvious is "Outta My System," a mid-tempo rock song that finds James, 33, singing about ditching the bad habits of youth and the ballad "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)," a dreamy, utopian outlook about finding peace.
Even the funky, horn lined song "Holdin' On To Black Metal" centers around grasping at pop culture fandom once enjoyed as a youth.
Despite the slightly new direction, My Morning Jacket fans won't stray far -- the title track "Circuital" is a seven-plus minute song that builds to a crescendo around James' voice and dueling guitar and piano lines.
"Playing with these guys in the band is like your best, comfortable old car that you love to drive: It just feels right, it feels good but you only know that from stepping outside and looking back in," he said.
The band stays fresh these days by enjoying extra-curricular activities. Along with Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis and She & Him's M.Ward, James formed the Monsters of Folk.
They released 2009's "Monsters of Folk" and toured extensively. In 2009, James also released a six-song EP of George Harrison covers called "Tribute To."
My Morning Jacket guitarist Carl Broemel has also released two solo albums and recently logged studio time with Wanda Jackson and Abigail Washburn.
The songs have for "Circuital" were written sporadically over the last several years, even as the group continued to tour and branch out. Still, it's these new opportunities that have come with their growing success that are shaping their own recorded output these days.
"There's no way you can't learn or grow from that," James said. "It's puts you in a self-analysis mode, where you're kind of like a kid again showing up to tee-ball practice for the first time."
(Editing by Jill Serjeant)