As the frontman of psych-rock visionaries My Morning Jacket and one quarter of supergroup Monsters of Folk, Kentucky musician Jim James is nothing if not versatile.
His principal group are given to dabbling in more genres over the course of one album than many bands might dare tackle in an entire career, while his sweet, heartfelt tribute to George Harrison – released under the name Yim Yames in 2009 – demonstrated a talent and sensibility that could flourish in any setting.
Regions of Light and Sound of God is his debut solo album proper, and, superficially at least, it is about as far-removed from his unadorned Harrison covers as possible. It veers from old-school soul, RnB and jazz influences, saxophone solos and tinkling keys to syrupy 50s balladry and crackling, futuristic funk.
Yet, in tone and in feel, it isn’t that distant from those tribute songs at all. It is pretty similar, in fact – and this is very much a good thing.
For something that James has in common with Harrison is an appreciation of spirituality that extends far beyond mere dilettantism. It imbues his music with wonder and joy, two things of which there are plenty to be found here.
Never an artist tethered by the constraints of a traditional rock band, James nevertheless sounds liberated by striking out on his own. He plays every instrument here, and claims producing and engineering credits for himself.
His aim was to approximate a sound that “came from a different place in time”, something its songs accomplish effortlessly. The album is heavily inspired by a 1929 novel by Lynd Ward entitled God’s Man – in which a story dealing with creativity, corruption, love and temptation is told entirely via a series of wooden engravings.
These themes explored are sometimes weighty, though hardly mired in existential doubt. Throughout, they are always presented in a playful, generous manner.
Buoyed by another fantastic vocal performance by James, Regions of Light and Sound of God skips its way through styles with abandon. Yet it never feels anything less than utterly cohesive, or the product of anyone other than its maker. It’s a soulful, self-contained delight. --James Skinner
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