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CD reviews: My Morning Jacket and Kings of Leon: Southern rock gets new spin

If Leon Followill's sermons were anything like his son's music, the Pentecostal preacher brought some serious boogie to the Bible Belt. The Tennessee-based Kings of Leon, Followill's three sons and a cousin, rock like holy rollers on their full-l...

If Leon Followill's sermons were anything like his son's music, the Pentecostal preacher brought some serious boogie to the Bible Belt.

The Tennessee-based Kings of Leon, Followill's three sons and a cousin, rock like holy rollers on their full-length debut, "Youth & Young Manhood."

Having already drawn comparisons to The Strokes due to their age -- the oldest, drummer Nathan, is 23 -- and obvious Southern music references, Kings of Leon put a fresh spin on rehashed garage rock.

The most surprising influence on the band appears to be original AC/DC singer Bon Scott, who died before any of the Kings were born.

Caleb Followill growls, sneers and yelps through "Wasted Time," "Molly's Chambers" and "Trani" with Nathan's pumping drums and Jared's chugging bass just a beat behind.

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Years of playing churches doesn't have much of a lasting effect on the Kings. Instead, their sound seems to be gleaned from classic Southern AM radio.

"Joe's Head" opens with a shimmering guitar line like something from the Allman Brothers before descending into Caleb's guttural vocals.

Armed with nothing more than lean rhythms and clean guitars, producer Ethan Johns channels the Followills' vigor into a solid, straight-ahead rock record. The album's standout track, "California Waiting," may be an overture to radio, but if it gets any play it will be one of the best songs on the dial.

Kentucky's My Morning Jacket won't likely find mainstream radio support, but their newest disc, "It Still Moves," is getting plenty of play from college stations.

The quintet wraps pop hooks and rock riffs in a lush blanket of reverb. At times MMJ sounds like a shotgun wedding between The Band and Pavement, at other times a fight for control between .38 Special and the Moody Blues.

Singer/songwriter Jim James may be more keen on Southern rock than the Kings, but it's not the only card he's playing. "Dancefloors" stomps and rolls like a roadhouse before breaking into some Allen Toussaint-like horn blasts.

The guitar work, including spiraling intros and outros on "One Big Holiday," is as electrifying and soulful as anything Dickey Betts ever recorded.

Though James can get a little too longwinded, like the nine-minute mash note, "I Will Sing You Songs," the tracks are more emotional than jam rock. The opener "Mahgeeta" chimes and echoes like a carousel in a roller rink and "Masterplan" is a brilliant bit of brooding.

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Kings of Leon and My Morning Jacket aren't re-inventing rock as much as they are reviving it. What they are re-inventing is the way Southern rock is perceived.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533

"Youth & Young Manhood"

Kings of Leon

RCA Records

Three out of four stars

"It Still Moves"

My Morning Jacket

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ATO Records

Three out of four stars

For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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