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It begins quietly: a muted drum roll, a simple but catchy piano riff, the distant sound of a kettle whistling, and then the crooning comes— Jim James’ signature vocals sounding almost unfamiliar in this strangely empty context. About halfway through, the bass line and percussion join in, and suddenly the eerie folksy track adopts a fuller, psychedelic sound, James’ repeated singing of, “A. E. I. O. U.” an undeniably catchy hook. The melding of countless genres ranging from folk to electronic, along with the combination of both existential questions and poppy melodies on this song serve as an honest indicator of what to expect from the rest of the album. It is a departure from his previous work: it is mystical and spiritual. It is Jim James, solo. It is Regions Of Light And Sound Of God. And it is good.
Jim James, born James Edward Olliges Jr., has become a staple name in the vocabularies of all indie music lovers over the past several years. Aside from being the frontman of My Morning Jacket, whose psychedelic-rock-folk roots have revolutionized the definition of Americana, he is a member of several other musical collaborations; most notably, he is a member of Monsters Of Folk alongside M. Ward and Conor Oberst, along with being a contributing vocalist for The Decemberists’ 2009 release, The Hazards of Love, as well as a member of the New Multitudes, another folk project, with Jay Farrar. James has proved himself to be a musical force of epic proportions, taking the folk scene by storm, a mixture of raw talent and dedication. Now, though, he’s proving that he can expand even beyond that.
Somehow, in between everything else he has going on, James has found the time to release his debut solo LP, Regions Of Light And Sound Of God. James invites his audience along for his existential journey; it is more about trying to find answers to his own questions and, as a result, comes off as a deeply personal album of self-exploration. Still, it’s an exploration that will reel in listeners over its nine effervescent and intricate tracks where James effortlessly manages to blend folk, funk, electronic, jazz, psychedelic, and rock all together into one cohesive sound.
“Dear One” and “New Life” are both upbeat recordings, particularly the frantic and complex piano on the opening of “Dear One,” where James croons, “Truly, it’s taking over a new meaning to me/In life and love, no written guarantee,” addressing a revelation about the ways love and life work, all while the synths and piano punctuate his spiritual musings. It’s a strange mix and it’s possible that a less talented musician wouldn’t be able to pull it off, but for James, it works. The electronic sound is present on “Know Til Now,” the first single that was released from Regions Of Light And Sound, which an absolute knockout of a track. With a slightly funkier sound, it’s perfect for both blasting in the car and a party playlist while keeping that effervescent, dreamy quality that serves as the glue holding all the tracks together. “I didn’t know til now/How could I have known?” James repeatedly sings on “Know Til Now,” and his questioning proves to be another theme on the album.
It also appears in “All Is Forgiven,” the eighth track on Regions Of Light And Sound Of God, one of the few darker moments on the album. It has a creeping bass, a jazzier sound, and a sinister quality to it. Again and again, James demands, “Who said that all is forgiven/All is forgiven/Oh, Lord,” which, by the end of the song has become, “I pray that all is forgiven,” which, like “Know Til Now,” shows that this is an album of personal reflection. Thankfully, listeners will be interested in exploring James’ head, too.
“God’s Love To Deliver,” which has the most folk sound of any of the songs on the album, closes Regions Of Light And Sound Of God as a thoughtful, haunting track focused on finding a way to communicate with God and the pureness of His love, completing the CD on a powerful note. It’s a rewarding and fulfilling listening experience that comes full circle and manages to effortlessly navigate the murky waters of spirituality without losing the airy feel, and is sure to become a favorite release of 2013.