Jim James: Regions of Light and Sound of God
My Morning Jacket frontman flies solo with soulful wings of glory
Stepping out on faith, My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James is embarking on yet another My Morning Jacket-less episode. Excluding 2009’s George Harrison tribute EP, Regions of Light and Sound of God stands out as his first solo record. But if you seriously tried to dissect his work with one of the greatest rock bands to come out of a post-Led Zeppelin era, you’d discover that James drive the machine. He writes the songs, he sings the songs, he produces the songs. And if you’d listen to the sonics coming off of Regions of Light…, you’ll probably call it another MMJ record. But the singer-songwriter and guitarist takes a page from 2010’s Circuital, which explored more his broody soul inheritance, and exercises his God-given right to explore more of his soulfulness and to reacquaint us with the wonder of his instrument. It’s no secret that his voice takes us place, particularly when it glides into a holy dimension of angelic falsetto that’s somewhere up there with Curtis Mayfield and Eddie Kendricks. But on this episode, he lays low on the loud rockin’ and constructs a set of music that’s more spiritual, intimate and Marvin Gaye-ish. As if he were constructing a Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On with George Harrison tendencies, James is all about making poignant moments, more than jaw-dropping workouts. The perfect example of that can be heard on the slow-cooker, “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.), which paces itself like an Isaac Hayes tune. The repeating of the same four bars on the upright piano starts things off; then the rhythm picks up with a Roots-like urgency. The same low-to-high build-up feature can be heard on “A New Life.” Things start off with a Simon & Garfunkel simplicity, but suddenly cranks up the charisma when the Brill Building melody and Springsteen perfection enters halfway into the song. No stranger to the Isaac Hayes comparison (see the liner notes he penned in the 2009 reissue of Hot Buttered Soul), James pours Hayes’s symphonic soul on the six-minute epic “Know Til Now” and the sexy-orchestrated “Actress.” He also pulls of a damn good Roots-sounding voyage on the “Dear One.”
On the album’s back end, the songs turn worshipful. He constructs a Davidic psalm with “All Is Forgiven” and writes a psychedelic hymn honoring Dr. Martin Luther King’s rich legacy, as if the slain civil rights leader marched himself into sainthood: “We carry on, then becomes now, our hearts carry on/Living the words and your message lives on.”
Fans of MMJ will find something to complain about. “It’s missing that one loud rock jam” will probably be their finest gripe. And some will feel James has gone too preachy on us all. But this is a pleasurable experiment that works like a love letter sent from heaven. And James happens to the prophet; a great singing prophet at that.