Regions of Light & Sound of God Import
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2013 solo release from the My Morning Jacket mainman. Regions Of Light And Sound of God was written, produced and all instruments performed by Jim James (with the exception of strings and percussion) in Louisville, KY. The music on the album is inspired by life and the novel in woodcuts `Gods' Man' by Lynd Ward. James' full time job, My Morning Jacket, has sold over a million albums in the US alone. Their last album debuted at #5 on the Billboard Top 200.
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I've listened to "Regions of Light and Sound of God" for a couple of days now, experiencing it both all the way through in a sitting, and going back and picking out certain sections and songs to enjoy. I've come to the conclusion that I greatly enjoy this solo outing from Jim James! Though, I must say listening to the entire album in one sitting is the best way to fully appreciate this work, it has something special going as a whole musical package. It's a journey.
Jim James (and My Morning Jacket in general) has always been one of those artists for me that seem like an old friend. It's always good to hear from them after they've been gone for a while, and they always have something interesting to say or show you when they come back around.
The music of My Morning Jacket is so personal and experimental/unpolished that when experienced, for some reason, it tends to feel as if you are the only one listening; like your hearing something unique and special that may or may not be ready for public listening consumption. This is particularly true with My Morning Jacket's first album "Tennessee". Through the years their music has become more experimental and Jim James' lyrics and vocals have become more and more soulful, both in sound and lyrical content.
Jim James' first solo studio album "Regions of Light and Sound of God" is a spiritual journey of music and words. A very positive vibe is flowing through this piece of work; it's very refreshing in today's musical climate. His singing is very mellow and soulful here, at times even touching on gospel, which has happened before on My Morning Jacket albums, but here it is in full force.
What struck me the most on this album was the music; it is very different than anything out there right now. It almost has a 70's electric Jazz feel to it. For some odd reason and this may be crazy talk, but Miles Davis's "In a Silent Way" came to mind a couple of times when listening to this. Some of these tracks just had a similar vibe to them, it must be the faint psychedelic undertow that "Regions of Light" has. This is most present on the excellent new track "Of The Mother Again".
Now, be forewarned, guitar is not the main vehicle of transportation for this musical journey. Granted there is guitar work placed here and there, however, this is a much more cosmic album of sounds and vocals. It's a very bass heavy ("Know til Now" could be danced to), also present are a lot of horns, drum driven rhythms, and swelling keyboard effect laden sounds accompanying the majority of the album.
When it comes to lyrics, Jim James has always been one for writing in an opaque and vague style. A style which I actually favor, it leaves it to the listener's imagination and feelings to decipher or uncover what is being said or what it intended to be said. On any given day a lyric could me something completely different, no matter how many times it's been heard. The underlining themes to the album seem to be God/Spirituality, love, positive thinking/finding hope in seemingly hopeless situations, and seeking comfort and truth. All of which would be impossible to convey with simple straight forward lyrics. Jim's smart usage of ambiguous lyrics allows a listener to have their own interpretation, to place one own experiences in the mix.
However, deep topics and complex song structure aside, don't feel as if this album can't simply be enjoyed for casual listening as well, it's quite pleasant, as I'm sure he intended it to be.
I'm very happy and intrigued with this album. I'm sure through the years I'll be returning to it quite often for a listen, and to revisit an old musical friend.
While My Morning Jacket has its roots in a bluesy, independent version of southern rock, you can always expect them to try something new. Additionally, the band always sounds huge, with the exception of a few purposefully scaled-down tracks like "Dondante". Jim James' solo record, REGIONS OF LIGHT AND SOUND OF GOD, feels stripped back. It's not as big a record as most My Morning Jacket efforts; there's no horn section, no children's choirs, no crunchy guitar riffs.
REGIONS OF LIGHT opens with the song that everyone has been talking about: "State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U)". It starts the album off with considerable promise -- the song is essentially a statement of purpose. The song is letting the listeners know right off the bat what kind of album this is going to be. The song relies on James' vocals and a slight piano riff for the first two minutes. "State of the Art" slowly blossoms with bass and guitar into a groove-heavy jam. "A New Life" has a nice, bouncy melody, and it should appeal more to fans of the Avett Brothers more so than fans of My Morning Jacket. "All is Forgiven" marks what might be the biggest detour of the album; the Eastern-influence track surrounds James voice in a foggy, creepy way. For better or worse, the same tone (is it a synthesizer) is used in the next track, "God's to Deliver," and instead of feeling as if the songs are flowing together, it feels like the first is dragging on. The album doesn't end in a bang, but it just kind of finally stops. There's no real sense of ending hear that has characterized other songs that James has used to end tracks ("Dondante", "One in the Same", or "Touch Me... Part 2").
I've always felt as if Jim James was some kind of musical chameleon. His band seems to just spit out songs that dabble in reggae, metal, pop, gospel -- it's all over the place. REGIONS OF LIGHT is a bit more reigned in; it's not quite as diverse or weird as previous albums. I don't necessarily consider this a detractor from the album, but fans should know what they're getting into. Most of the songs here are mid-tempo, mid-volume, middle-of-the-road jams. There's no shifting dynamics, no surprising transitions.
All of the songs here are good. They all work; they all have good melodies. Unfortunately, for me, the album never quite cohered into one purposeful album. After a few songs, the REGIONS OF LIGHT feels like one mid-tempo song after the other, without too much to distinguish them. Perhaps I'm spoiled by My Morning Jacket's sense of diversity, but it seems that Jim James is at his best when he is striking out of his comfort zone. REGIONS OF LIGHT though, feels more like James has found his comfort-zone musically and hidden well inside it. This isn't a bad album, but it's one that I would recommend splitting into individual tracks for later consumption. If you're new to the Jim James discography, I'd suggest starting with his work in My Morning Jacket (the "Z" album maybe). However, if you love My Morning Jacket, this solo outing should tide you over until the next Jim James project.
Tracks to sample/download: "State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U)", "A New Life", and "Of the Mother Again"
The album opens up with a trio of songs in "State Of The Art (AEIOU)","Know Til Now",with it's compelling delayed rhythm intro and "Dear One". Musically these combine a spare,echo drenched sound-full of piano and with a strong funky soul groove that is bought to life even more by the spare and delicate psychedelic arrangements. "A New Life" is a beautifully expansive melody-right out of the reverb heavy Roy Orbison school of highly melodic pop/rock that James brings his own soaring,mildly ragged multi octave vocals to. "Exploding" is a rather like minded instrumental done on acoustic guitar. "Of The Mother Again" and "Actress" are two of my favorite songs here (if I was asked to pick just two) mainly because they bring out the sweetly orchestrated blue eyed soul/pop that was so prevalent in the late 60's/early 70's with their melodic keyboard solos and enticing rhythms. The last two songs are musically very much night and day of the same attitude-both are built of James harmonizing beautifully with his own multi tracked voice to the pretty and haunting melodies but "All Is Forgiven" is a bit downbeat and searching where "God's Love To Deliver" is full of the wealth of love and spirit.
There's a quality about this album that reminds me somewhat of Todd Rundgren's 1981 release Healing as well as Stevie Wonder's Fulfillingness' First Finale. Both albums were inspired by near soul destroying tragedies and near death experiences,and so is this. In James case,it was falling off the stage at a My Morning Jacket concert. During his apparently difficult recuperation a friend lent him a copy of a 1929 graphic novel called Gods' Man that apparently helped him seek some kind of redemption between spirituality and his own existence. I can only imagine how much of himself the apparently thoughtful James put into creating this album which,in a lot of ways in nothing short of a masterpiece. By seamlessly blending psychedelia,pop,rock,blues,soul and funk into a strikingly atmospheric musical experience,Jim James was able to play and sing about emotionally complex matters of the soul. He was influenced by many great confessional singer/songwriters of the past obviously,but within the context of his own musical vision. That's the quality that results in this being my personal candidate for best album of the year so far.
Jim is an incredible songwriter and musician, that is not in question. I wasn't quite sure what direction he would go with the tone and style of his new album and apparently neither was he. After listening to the first track, "State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U)" I was pretty excited. The song seems to call homage to classic rock, in an on purpose low-fi quality. It's as if Bad Company came and had a sexy Jim James baby. I really love this song and it's by far his best work on the album. As the album moves on though it almost seems as if he's calling upon classic rock to guide him, and he doesn't seem to find a style or through-line that holds steady. Many of the tracks are great, but when listened to as a whole this work is not cohesive for me.
If you listen to the next three songs they are all over the place and it doesn't get any better.
"Know Til Now" has a somewhat funky feel, but it's very compressed and produced and it doesn't seem to build as we move through the song, which is important since it's six minutes long.
"Dear One," Is one of the better tracks on the album, and I wish he'd stay in this mode a little more. The ambient yet frenetic piano holds well and James' voice is slightly rhythmic, and slightly that of a Zappa like story-man.
"A New Life," Now he takes on a weird, Pink Floyd like take on this song and it doesn't completely work for me. There are nice pace as the song goes along. But now I've heard four different Jim James' and I don't know what to think. The end of this song is really nice though, but I have a hard time getting past the first minute.
If you make it to the end of the album, then you'll hear "God's Love to Deliver." Easily my least favorite track on the album. James voice is highly compressed and not natural at all. It's borderline annoying and grating. The ambient tone and swaying guitars and synths here are just not for me. If you like this, I'm sorry for dissing on it, but this is not what I expected after listening to the first bit of the album.
The annoying thing is a lot of the music here is pretty good, and he shows his talents in songwriting well, it just isn't cohesive or linear. I hope that his work going forward follows the "State of the Art" type of sound more, as that would be awesome. I'd suggest going through the album and seeing what tracks you like and buying those instead of going for the whole shebang.
Now, moving on to what I think. I am enjoying the quieter floating, but still dense at times, sound that this album offers. I am already sold on Jim James as a singer, and these songs put his voice front and center. Everything around it is just gravy, but it is very good gravy. This is a great album to just sit back and enjoy.