Jim James of My Morning Jacket (MMJ to their legions of fans) released his first solo album this week. While James will never be the most commercial of artists there is no doubt he is one of the most talented artists of the moment. Many in Bangor will recall that My Morning Jacket were the headlining act at the KahBang festival a couple of summers ago and were forced, due to their drummer experiencing food poisoning and being unable to go on, to play a unique set of acoustic music. In many respects this album mirrors that performance and continues in that direction.
With an album title of Regions of Light and Sound of God there is nothing shy and retiring about the singer’s solo effort. James is a singer totally comfortable in going out on a limb, he has no desire to be comfortable, and he does not want his listeners to be either. This music requires more than one listen, it is not pop music. In listening to the album one will hear a great deal of different sounds, echo’s, traces of seventies funk and soul, and always the layers of James’s voice. Not a great departure from the sound of MMJ in total but one senses that the singer feels comfortable stretching even further out into the realm of the possible on this album than he has on the band’s work.
The album begins with a song called State of the Art – A E I O U. A quiet haunting song quoting verses of Rock a Bye baby, and the singsong of the vowels we learned in kindergarten, with a slight piano and drum drive behind James voice this is a song that sneaks up on you. After a couple of listens one is easily hooked.
Know Till Now is a sojourn through a jazzy seventies sound that stretches out for six minutes quickly followed by the track Dear One. James voice is as steady as can be as he sounds like a mix of acoustic David Bowie and seventies John Lennon and even has a little Neil Young fuzzbox in the background.
On Actress James sounds close to home in that pocket of sound that mirrors his full band , his voice again also makes one hear the influence of Lennon while on Of The Mother Again one first hears the trippy late sixties Beatles sound and then that is joined with a jazzy seventies era mix. Above it all James voice sings and echoes on and around the instrumentation until the song ends in a quick drop that mirrors the sounds of the hearing tests we took in elementary school.
The album ends with God’s Love to Deliver which features a seance worthy layer of James voice paying tribute to Dr. King and the ” God speak ” he voiced. Perhaps the most experimental of the songs on the album James voice comes in and out at different levels over the music and, as my wife says, clearly there will be some hazy Saturday night revelations found in this music in a few dorm rooms.
I have left the most stunning track to speak of last. If anyone saw Jimmy Fallon last Monday evening they saw James perform A New Life and know already of what I speak. In this song James opens with just his voice and a slight guitar before he is joined by some Fleetwood Mac Tusk era inspired marching drums. James voice takes off with soul and holds a note till it hurts. By this time your foot is tapping and after hearing the song a couple of times you will be singing it all day. My daughter has already tired of my singing the chorus for the last few days. This song will be a concert staple for years to come. A strong song on the record, the performance on Fallon was exponentially better. Fallon’s Questlove called it one of the best performances ever on the show and it was not hyperbole. I urge you to find the performance on Youtube as it provides a great introduction to the Jim James sound.
As the Beatles said decades ago one needs to ” relax and float downstream.” James urges you to do the same. You will not be disappointed.