By Daniel Janaro
SC Staff Writer
Jim James’ “Regions of Light and Sounds of God” was released on February 5th. Why it’s taken a month to write up a review is because the music contained on the disc demands me to.
This year’s most anticipated release comes from an artist who really has no need to make a solo album.
Jim James has been the leading man and main song writer for widely popular My Morning Jacket, a blend of southern/psychadelic rock with a tinge of Led Zeppelin influence who have sold millions of records worldwide.
But on his first solo effort, James leaves his familiar backing band at the studio and records a truly liberating sonic excursion through life, love, faith, and fame—in only a way that a man of James’ talent can conceive.
While recovering from a stage fall in 2008, James was introduced to Lynn Ward’s 1929 graphic novel “God’s Man,” a story told in woodcuts about an artist who is commissioned to paint a portrait, ends up physically beaten and, in the end, doesn’t realize he’s made a pact with the devil; but along the way the artist is nursed back to health by a girl, starts a family and lives his life happily.
Using this story as a basis, James finds his influence and the creation of a solo career was born.
With the opener “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)” James is showing the listener his creative process, stating that the man is separate from the technology, and depending on which route you take, one is subjugate to the other.
The song starts the album slow with a monotonous piano chord and James’ haunting vocals stretching out into the ether, but by the time the song gets to its climax, a heavy hip-hop drum beat and bass line take over, prodding deep into the listener’s head.
“Know ‘Til Now” is a six-minute escapade through funk and soul. The song begins almost in the middle of something; picking up as if it’s interrupting a song already in progress—a realization, possibly—that James has just figured out.
What that idea is I’m not quite sure, but when James sings, “I didn’t know ‘til now/How sweet it could be,” James is sure glad he’s made it to that point in his life.
The entirety of the album feels like a throwback to the music of the 60’s and 70’s, and James is never too proud to bring his influences to the forefront.
Songs like “Dear One” and “A New Life” channel his inner Lennon, and the Beatles influence can be felt throughout; in fact, the album feels like a miniature White Album. “Exploding” is a sweet, melodic two-minute instrumental; a rarity in popular music today; and “All is Forgiven” is a truncated “Kashmir”.
“Actress” is the hardest rocker of the bunch and that’s saying something for a song that’s rather soft, but the guitar work is reminiscent of My Morning Jacket for anyone who misses the big guitar chords void in this solo work.
James dabbles with ideas of confronting fame and idolism, issues facing musicians in American music today and the Lennonesque lyrics add for nice scathing commentary.
With the last half of the album, James is longing for spiritual rebirth, having already found what he wants in love and relationships, but the last piece of his life puzzle remains to be resolved. James is searching for some heavenly realm and it’s hard to determine if he ever reaches that point at album’s end.
With this album James is revealing his inner-self to the listener—longing for love, hope and understanding—but only offering enough to skim the surface, evidenced by James standing with his back to us on the front cover.
This deeply affecting solo effort presents a complex, brilliant musical artist reveling in self-examination for the first time, something he could not obtain with a band.
What James offers with “Regions” is interesting material for an artist following a new path, but sometimes this new direction can take a less cohesive course.
This album straddles that line, but powers through with catchy songs and nice electronic beats, but the personal revaluation may be too much to handle for some, but then again, maybe not.
Because “Regions of Light and Sounds of God” is like that, you know?
Once you listen to and embrace the music that is contained within, you begin to open up and explore yourself.
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