Jerry Joseph & the Jackmormons : Happy Book

It’s been seven years since the Jackmormon’s last studio release – 2005’s Into The Lovely – but that doesn’t mean they’ve been idle. Their path has been a circuitous one throughout the band’s 16-year career, allowing room for side projects, solo shows, dissolutions and diversions. For these past seven years, the band has continued to host their occasional destination concerts in tropical locales like Costa Rica, Mexico and Nicaragua; has toured sporadically but relentlessly and released a live album, 2010’s Badlandia; and Joseph has toured both as a solo musician, with Wally Ingram as a duo, and in various other band permutations such as Denmark Veseys and Stockholm Syndrome, all of which have been accompanied by their own recorded output.

Now, though, the Jackmormons are back in a big way with Happy Book, a gleaming culmination of their many road-tested years together. The double-CD set leans on a broad palette that includes traces of soul, country, ska and, of course, hard-driving guitar rock. Produced by Joseph’s former Little Women bandmate, Gregg Williams (who has worked with Blitzen Trapper and the Dandy Warhols), Happy Book utilizes various guest musicians to add flourishes of horns, accordion, pedal steel and backing vocals to flesh out the genre amalgamations.

The deft deployment of those guest players serves to underscore just how varied Joseph’s output can be. “Thanks & Praises” bounces along with a joyous ska beat and slinky saxophone punctuations. The country lilt and swing of “The Road Home” is buoyed by pedal steel, while the horn-laden, R&B-tinged party rocker “Mile High Mile Deep” gives an extra jubilant boost to the JMO’s sound. Banjo provides an intricate accompaniment to “Anaconda,”  yet all this country and soul stew is not to say Joseph has stepped away from his trademark gritty provocation and irresistible hooks. “Kicking Hong Kong” manages to marry a slow burn groove with a sense of urgency, “Beautiful Dirt” provides a prototypical hard-driving bass line from JR Ruppel, and the jangly title track and “Radio Cab” hearken to vintage Joseph catchiness.

In many ways, Happy Book feels like a zenith, a full realization of the magic that emerges when Joseph’s material is manifested in this band. It would well serve as a primer for any Jackmormons neophyte. The rhythm combo of Steve Drizos and JR Ruppel provide both propulsion and adornment. Ruppel’s backing vocals throughout are superb, and the inclusion of extended family of Wally Ingram on percussion, The Decemberists’ Jenny Conlee-Drizos on accordion and organ and Chris Funk on banjo, Paul Brainard on pedal steel, Eric Eccles (Richmond Fontaine) on additional guitars and the horn section makes Happy Book feel like a party full of family and friends, celebrating the full fruition of years of toiling and tinkering.

Happy Book is out now on Response Records.