My Morning Jacket frontman goes soloPublished 6:04am Friday, February 1, 2013
On his first official solo album, Jim James is in complete control.
After six studio albums as front-man of My Morning Jacket, James is taking the “solo” on his first solo project a bit literally, as he reportedly plays most parts on “Regions of Light and Sound of God.”
It’s fitting James sheds the help on this album and fully takes the reins himself. While not as grandiose as listeners would expect from a My Morning Jacket album, James succeeds in conveying immensely personal music.
The album opens sparsely on “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.),” with James singing and backed only by a piano. Gradually, drums and later a bass join in and the song takes shape like images on a canvas.
From the start, James creates a backdrop for the album, with drums and other sounds often starting like a distance echo before a crescendo brings them to the forefront.
In the opening verses, James sings “I know you need the dark just as much as the sun,” and the album truly moves across many bright and dark moments.
James’ inspiration for the album stems from the 1929 graphic novel “God’s Man” by Lynd Ward. The piece is a series of wood engravings that wordlessly tell the story of an artist struggling with success, temptation, love, corruption, etc., and James has said he discovered the piece at an immensely personal time in his life.
Partway through “God’s Man,” the artist falls off a cliff and eventually moves into a new stage of his life.
James can literally relate. During a 2008 My Morning Jacket performance, James was injured when he fell from stage in Iowa.
As he was recovering, both physically and mentally, he related to the story depicted in “God’s Man” and started trying to score the graphic novel.
Like the character, James “fell in love and had this beautiful reawakening,” as he recently told RollingStone — something depicted through the song “A New Life.” The track is really representative of the entire album, mixing somber acoustics, but at times building to more upbeat, resplendent moments. The song rises to a celebratory close, ending with a flourish of instrumentation.
At times, James the album certainly sounds like stray My Morning Jacket songs, especially on “Dear One” and “Exploding.”
But James manages to avoid many of the ills that often befall other band leaders who turn to side projects. This isn’t a My Morning Jacket album that jettisoned the rest of the band; this is James musing over recent events in his life.
“The solo record is just a completely different essence of just me trying to figure out stuff,” James recently told RollingStone magazine.
James isn’t coy in hiding his subjects, often reflecting on topics like love and God, especially on the haunting brooding “All if Forgiven.”
After an album of baring his soul, James sounds a bit restrained on “God’s Love to Deliver,” and the album closes on a bit anti-climactic note.