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Burn Movie Review

Sizzlingly Odd
In his debut feature, writer/director Mike Gan has created a small film that, if there's justice, will attain a cult-like status. "Burn" takes place in the course of one evening and entirely within the confines of a rural, out-of-the-way gas station shop.
It's the kind of place that loners might wander into for a hot cup of coffee at 3am. Obviously this is not a big budget film, but Gan squeezes an awful lot of goodness out of it. Maybe we should call it badness.

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My Morning Jacket - The Tennessee Fire: 20th Anniversary Edition Music Album Reviews

On their debut, My Morning Jacket discovered the heavy reverb that would make them legendary.

My Morning Jacket recorded parts of The Tennessee Fire at Above the Cadillac, a makeshift studio on a Kentucky farm. Located in a tiny town called Shelbyville, the farm was owned by the grandparents of Johnny Quaid, My Morning Jacket’s original guitarist and cousin of singer Jim James. It’s a decent backstory, but then James laid his vocals down in an abandoned grain silo, and now, that’s the only part people remember.


Maybe James could have achieved the same tone in a deserted steel mill a few hours away in Evansville, Indiana, or a meat locker in Frankfort, but that Shelbyville silo helped James—and My Morning Jacket—achieve a sort of supreme rusticity years before Justin Vernon holed up in Wisconsin. For god’s sake, the town of Shelbyville was once the home of the real-life Colonel Sanders.

Its misleading title aside, The Tennessee Fire feels modeled after Kentucky itself—Rust Belt, midwestern, and Appalachian, yes, but always country, and misunderstood by the majority of outsiders. “I was born in East Kentucky/Home of where the grass is dyed/Always down and always out/But my morals always seemed just fine,” James sings on The Tennessee Fire’s solo centerpiece “I Will Be There When You Die”—a sentiment and a song that could’ve comforted a Pineville coal miner a century ago. “Take me out of this hell I'm in/Take me out of this dead-end nightmare/And put me back in a world I can live,” he wails earlier on a “Nashville to Kentucky,” with enough reverb to float him into the same anti-gravity airspace that Sigur Rós occupied that year.

The earnest austerity of “Nashville to Kentucky” might’ve slotted Jim James next to Will Oldham. But it’s the rebel-yell shitkickers like “Heartbreakin’ Man,” “The Dark,” and “It’s About Twilight Now” that foreshadow where My Morning Jacket would go next on At Dawn. The band hadn’t yet solidified their lineup or toured enough to have the confidence or awareness to recognize their future in extended guitar jams; only one song tops out over five minutes on The Tennessee Fire, and most are under three.

This relative innocence makes The Tennessee Fire the breeziest of My Morning Jacket’s opening trilogy of “harmony and folk shit” records, even if it’s the most uneven. You can hear hints of the restlessness that would eventually lead to 2008’s scatter-brained Evil Urges, which James once compared to a Super Mario Bros. soundtrack. But there’s no overarching theme here, just a band trying on sounds without knowing what they’re doing or expecting anyone to pay attention.

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If The Tennessee Fire only hints at the festival juggernaut My Morning Jacket would become, it’s because they rarely sound like an actual band on these songs. James has always been the focal point, and here he plays the high-lonesome crooner that could’ve lived at any point in the past century. This is a drinking-alone album, and the lyrics are startlingly bleak when you tune into them: James mostly anaesthetizes himself amongst the lowdown friends and lovers who leave him for dead, dreaming of “casino bars, tight whores, and Tinseltown.” “I think my mother would kill me/If she knew what I was about,” he moans on “I Will Be There When You Die.” This band never deals in outright anger or aggression, but on The Tennessee Fire, the bitter, aluminum aftertaste of that silo reverb says what James can’t bring himself to.

The Tennessee Fire remains more suited to revisitation than reassessment—its legacy as “the one before At Dawn” feels secure. This reissue comes stocked with the requisite alternate takes and demos, but the most important song from this era isn’t actually included. Technically speaking, the band’s biggest hit is their cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” included on Chapter 1: The Sandworm Cometh, a collection of odds and ends that preceded their breakthrough At Dawn. It’s easy to see how James related to “Rocket Man” in 1999— one guy trapped inside a metal box, burning up his fuse all alone.

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