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

Jim James
ATO Records

Who’s to say where a My Morning Jacket album ends and a Jim James solo album begins? The 34-year-old frontman for the Kentucky rockers has piloted the increasingly spaced-out band since their 1999 debut. He’s recorded a few projects outside of the group (most notably, a George Harrison tribute EP under the name Yim Yames), but his proper solo debut, ‘Regions of Light and Sound of God,’ does everything a solo album is supposed to — including giving the artist an opportunity to roam outside of his natural bounds.

Thing is, James already roams quite a bit in My Morning Jacket. He’s tried on everything from weepy alt-country to guitar-powered indie rock to time-warping psychedelia to cowboy funk. And with each passing album, he’s gotten more ambitious. On ‘Regions of Light and Sound of God,’ he scales back, stripping down arrangements and playing all of the instruments himself. But it’s still weird and epic in its own way.

The intro to the album’s opening track, ‘State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U),’ sounds like an outtake from My Morning Jacket’s 2011 album ‘Circuital.’ But the intergalactic symphony soon yields spare piano notes and James’ hushed vocal slinking over rumbling bass and live, vaguely hip-hop drums. That genre-jumping formula is used throughout ‘Regions of Light and Sound of God,’ from the globetrotting AM Gold of ‘Of the Mother Again’ to ‘A New Life,’ which starts as a finger-plucked ballad before veering into 1950s radio pop.

Best is ‘Know Til Now,’ which features ‘70s disco drums, ghostly backing vocals that double back on themselves and synths that can’t even be bothered to sound like real horns. It’s like a mid-tempo Curtis Mayfield jam updated for post-millennium stoners.

Even with James’ hazy visions of old-school R&B, ‘Regions of Light and Sound of God’ plays like a more intimate version of My Morning Jacket — warmer, closer and cuddlier. The band’s full-throttle guitar freak-outs are missed, and some of the LP’s less-ambitious tracks (like the John Lennon-cribbing ‘Actress’) feel empty. But the lone-wolf howls come through loud and clear.

7 out of 10 rating

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