Listen: Regions of Light and Sound of God
Jim James (ATO Records, 2013)
Kentucky rock outfit My Morning Jacket made its name in the early 2000s off its signature brew of country and psychedelic rock drenched in reverb. Yet the band has displayed a more eclectic range of influences in recent years, including elements of R&B, reggae, and electronica.
Given the band’s ever-changing sound, one could be excused for missing the spiritual themes that front man Jim James has explored on recent records, now most explicitly with his first full-length solo album, Regions of Light and Sound of God.
On the opening track, “State of the Art,” a haunting piano riff and escalating rhythm and bass section (James played all the instruments on Regions) accompany a gentle plea for freedom from the hollow promises of technology: “A life worth living/now you can feel it in your chest.”
Redemption also appears on the album’s most memorable cut, “A New Life,” which sounds like a tribute to a 1950s Roy Orbison. James earnestly croons in the voice of a besotted young lover, “I think I’m really being sincere/I want a new life with you.”
Listeners naively expecting to hear straightforward God talk will be frustrated by James, who publicly identifies as a recovering Catholic who finds the divine in the creative process. But like the spiritual-but-not-religious ethos suggested by his remarks, Regions sometimes plods along with more clichés than cohesion (take the album’s closer, a clumsy ode to Martin Luther King, Jr. that drags to the end).
Nonetheless, with this impressive solo debut James firmly establishes himself as one of rock’s most unique voices, capable of carrying a full-length project. One hopes that his quest for a deeper spirituality will keep up with his sophisticated musical palate.
This article appeared in the June 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 6, page 42).