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CD Reviews | Style & Culture

Album Review: Jim James, ‘Regions of Light and Sound of God’

My Morning Jacket frontman’s latest an iffy solo effort

If the name Jim James does not ring a bell, perhaps the name My Morning Jacket does.

James serves as frontman and lead vocalist for the Grammy-nominated, southern indie rockers. Their style ranges from psychedelic to alt-country and nearly everything in between. Their signature sound is a direct result of an unheard of amount of reverb that is often layered on top of James’ vocals. My Morning Jacket released their 1999 debut album, “The Tennessee Fire,” and has since rose to prominence, releasing five more studio albums, three live albums, four compilation albums, 10 EPs and a live DVD.

Previously, James has worked on a number of projects outside of MMJ, including indie supergroup Monsters of Folk, contributions to a Woody Guthrie tribute album and a guest appearance on Booker T. Jones’s Grammy award-winning “The Road From Memphis.” After the passing of George Harrison in 2009, James released an acoustic EP tribute album under the moniker Yim Yames.

On his solo debut, James expands his quirky ways and innovative sound, electing to incorporate a myriad of textual elements and sounds. The reverb is ever present, and James’ self-harmonizing background vocals blend wonderfully on “Actress.”

To promote the release of his new album, James appeared on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” performing “A New Life” with the aid of “Late Night” house band The Roots. Drummer Questlove tweeted after the inspiring performance that it was the “most beautiful song I ever played on ‘Late Night.’” The song itself starts with a lone, echo-laden vocal from James and a quiet acoustic guitar accompaniment paired with a muted tapping percussion.

At the one-and-a-half minute mark, the tempo picks up; bit by bit, more elements are folded into the mix. Everything from xylophone to a strings and horns section is added, changing the tone from somber to celebratory. The saxophone fill is very reminiscent of the late Clarence Clemons of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.

The next track on the album, a short instrumental called “Exploding,” is nothing like the name would suggest. Instead, it is soothing like a lullaby and bears a resemblance to the solo work of fellow My Morning Jacket musician Carl Broemel’s “All Birds Say” album.

“Regions” dismisses the alt-country tendencies of MMJ in favor of other types of sounds, including funk and soul. The album starts off strong, with arguably the two best songs of the lot: “State of The Art (A.E.I.O.U.)” and “Know Til Know.” The lyrics are very introspective, as is the entire album. This is not necessarily an album you are going to play for a large party; but for those moments spent alone, the introspective musings of this album can yield highly satisfying results.

The album is not God-like, as the name might suggest, and it has its flaws. The final two tracks are underwhelming — the last being particularly unlistenable. The lyrical content of “God’s Love to Deliver” makes reference to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While this is admirable, the song is frankly unworthy of such an association. James put forth a great effort in delivering something vastly different from his usual work with My Morning Jacket, but it seems he ran out of steam just before the finish line.

Most of the album is enjoyable, but it may take a few listens to grow on you, due to its uniqueness and nonconformity to any particular sound or genre.

Grade: B-