Five years ago, when Jim James, Mike Mogis, Conor Oberst and M. Ward first toured together, they were a study in contrasts as well as in camaraderie. Ward, hauntingly delivering his own blues and folk-based tunes, took a spare, intimate approach. My Morning Jacket vocalist and guitarist James, on the other hand, was already reaching for the rafters with his keening, echo-laden voice. Oberst — with his long-time producer, multi-instrumentalist and Bright Eyes mainstay Mogis — offered both candor and drama in songs that fell somewhere between confession and fever dream.
That was a rare, up-close opportunity to watch the interaction among these young artists, a send-off, in a way, as each went on to greater individual acclaim. But it was also just the beginning, a prelude to the collaborative adventure of making their first record together — an album years in the planning and months in the making, one that has turned out to be far more than the already impressive sum of their parts. -Michael Hill