Talk to Jim James for more than five minutes and the word ''positivity" is bound to come up. James fronts the lushly hypnotic, Americana-laced indie band My Morning Jacket -- and he isn't about to let any negativity spoil his party.
The group's new album, ''Z," is an absolute masterwork -- filled with ethereal James vocals that merge the magnetism of Roy Orbison and Radiohead's Thom Yorke. The album also marks the debut of two new members, guitarist Carl Broemel and keyboardist Bo Koster.
''They've really helped us by bringing in a wave of positivity," he says. ''To have two new people come in that are really excited and aren't burnt out and worn down to the ground, it just kind of energizes you and gets you excited again."
''I really feel that way about everything in life," he says. ''If you get in a rut or a routine, you have to switch it up because something is going to happen, whether it's quitting your job or moving to a new town or whatever. That change most of the time is going to bring about some positivity."
Ah, there's that word again -- merely one of many mentions during a phone interview from his home in Louisville, Ky., which he would leave shortly to head north for a date at Avalon tomorrow. The band is also in ''Elizabethtown," the Cameron Crowe film opening today. The members play a local band performing Lynyrd Skynyrd's ''Free Bird."
James is a joy, a total music freak who has known since seventh grade that he wanted to pursue rock 'n' roll as a career. He speaks with a deep intelligence on early influences such as Orbison, Neil Young, the Band, Bob Dylan, Etta James, and Pink Floyd. And he explains that My Morning Jacket's new producer, John Leckie, was chosen not only because he had worked with Radiohead and Pink Floyd, but because he was a tape operator on George Harrison's record ''All Things Must Pass."
''That just set off a special signal in my heart because that was one of the greatest records ever made," says James. And his assessment of Leckie's work with My Morning Jacket is, well, positive.
''He did a good job of reading us. I admire people who can come in and work for the benefit of the project and not for their own ego or designs," says James. ''John came in and listened to what we said and he really helped us make the best record we could. He didn't do anything for himself. There's wasn't one selfish motive."
The new album has some celestial songs about empowerment, along with a couple of sad ones in ''Dondante" and ''What a Wonderful Man," which James wrote for two friends of his who passed away. But the music in these songs is transformational. James's high-pitched, floating voice in ''Dondante," combined with his delicate guitar bends, carries the listener to a new place. And there's even a modified Harrison quote in the verse, ''Now I'm learning, learning that this will pass."
James is modest -- and deflects attention to other artists he enjoys -- such as Sufjan Stevens, Conor Oberst, M. Ward, and Joanna Newsom.
''I feel lucky and proud to be part of that wave that is now hopefully making a positive step," he says.
Would you expect him to say anything less?
Dorchester punk: The band Unnatural Axe helped put the Dorchester punk scene on the map. A documentary of the group, ''You'll Pay for This," directed by Axe member Tom White, will air at the Emerald Isle club in Fields Corner next Saturday, Oct. 22. The film is at 7 p.m., then Unnatural Axe performs at 9. It's a benefit for Dorchester Open Studios.
Caught around town: The Cat Empire at the Middle East Downstairs: Australia's Cat Empire has won acclaim for its multidimensional sound -- a potpourri of jazz, soul, rock, salsa, ska, and reggae. But to hear it come alive in person was another thrill altogether. The Melbourne-based band stoked a Monday night party this week that was one of the most exciting evenings in some time.
Furvis at the Abbey Lounge: I admit to being underwhelmed when I first saw Furvis at the WBCN Rock 'N' Roll Rumble a few months ago. But to catch it at the smaller, less stressful Abbey was a revelation. Furvis is a pop-rock band with hooks and energy reminiscent of a young R.E.M. It's reportedly getting a lot of attention from record labels these days, which appears to be fully deserved.
Bits and pieces: The Strokes release their third album, ''First Impressions of Earth," on Jan. 6 . . . Fiona Apple is at the Orpheum Theatre Dec. 7. Tickets on sale tomorrow . . . Sweet Honey in the Rock sings at Symphony Hall Nov. 5. On sale now . . . INXS is at the Wang Theatre Feb. 10. On sale tomorrow. . . . A Jefferson Starship reunion (with Paul Kantner and Marty Balin) is tomorrow at the Berklee Performance Center to benefit the Jimmy Fund . . . The Boston Blues Society holds its annual Boston Blues Challenge next Thursday through Saturday at F1 Boston in Braintree. Contestants include the Scissormen, Chris Fitz Band, Lois Lane & the Daily Planets, and many others . . . Tonight: The rockin' Detroit Cobras at the Middle East Downstairs, Super Diamond at the Paradise, Love Dogs at the Sea Note, Chaz & the Motorbikes at Sally O'Brien's for honky-tonk night, and a buoyant triple bill at the Kirkland Cafe with the World's Greatest Sinners, Prime Movers, and Barrence Whitfield & the Savages . . . Tomorrow: Lamont has a CD release party at the Middle East Upstairs, and the underrated Dwight Richter Band plays the downstairs room. Also, Pressure Cooker offers tangy reggae riddims at Johnny D's . . . Sunday: The Unseen at Axis, and the Bellrays and Downbeat 5 at T.T. the Bear's Place.