Jim James’ new album isn’t for everyone. In fact, it probably isn’t for most fans including those that are even casual fans of My Morning Jacket. It’s broad in its spectrum and reminds me of a 70’s album heavy on background percussion and piano. It’s a soul album when boiled down its core, a far cry from the over reaching sounds of MMJ. As Stephen Thompson writes on NPR, “Inspired by an 80-year-old book of woodcut art called A God’s Man — which tells the dark story of an artist’s redemption and lingering demons — James takes a similarly lonely journey on Regions of Light, on which he plays every instrument himself.”
The man who once covered George Harrison songs for an EP is at his best here in the most unconventionally Jim James way. He is subtle, soft even in his breadth and yet grandiose in his vision. The album is obviously a labor of love for the unorthodox James and it shows with his carefully crafted vocals and melodies. The melodies are dramatic, eerie and almost in a perfunctory manner. James floats through the ether of the song with an echo that suggests he is singing in an amphitheater or a very large room with wonderful acoustics.
I like this album, because of what it stands for. The fact that Jim James took something so obscure as an 80 year old woodcut art book and created an album that truly means something to him shows. It shows that there is depth to Mr. James, a depth that even us as people who have followed his storied career, were unaware existed. He also creates the type of soul album that I love, the type that goes from song one until the end without a break. This is an album that must be listened to from start to finish without interruption. It’s only 38:30 so it’s not like it’s a chore. It’s like a Bobby Womack album with a concept to it. I’m not saying that to slight Mr. Womack only to say that this is, in fact, a concept album.
I encourage you to listen to the album before you buy it over at NPR’s First Listen. I loved it as an album and what could be a soundtrack to the thoughts of Jim James intertwined with those of Lynd Ward, author of the aforementioned God’s Man. There is a distinct African feel about this album to me, Middle Eastern Africa, that reminds of Sade of all people. It has a sultriness that runs counter to almost everything we’ve heard from James before. This is, again, a dramatic turn for Jim James, but one if you’re anything like me, a welcome one.
Regions of Light and Sound of God comes out February 5th.