As the linchpin of Louisville’s My Morning Jacket, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Jim James has made a name as the consummate crafter of a spacey and highly distinctive rock hybrid: classic country (in the mode of The Band and Neil Young), etched with psychedelic pop and bearing a deep soulfulness (think Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers and Curtis Mayfield).
James’s solo debut, however, is a very different proposition. Regions of Light and Sound of God presents as a deeply personal record, most of it played by James himself and recorded in his home studio. The reverb slathered so generously over MMJ’s material also warms and enriches these nine, alluringly intimate songs, but without once threatening to smother James’s effortlessly lovely voice, while instrumentation (his MIDI guitar gets a good workout) and arrangements are markedly more minimal.
It’s an easy-flowing and reflective affair that nods to Crosby, Stills & Nash (final track “God’s Love to Deliver” echoes their “Helplessly Hoping”), George Harrison (“Of the Mother Again” acknowledges the Beatle’s interest in Indian ragas) and Roy Orbison (the doo-wop-toned “A New Life” recalls “In Dreams”), as well as his beloved soul greats. Much more unexpectedly, groovy opener “State of the Art [A.E.I.O.U.]” is a foray into lean, kosmische blues, while the killer “Know ’til Now” sources contemporary R&B/futuro-hip hop via its marriage of James’s velveteen, echo-treated vocal to punched-up beats, staccato keys and synthesized horns.
The tendency of far too many frontmen making their debut is to bludgeon the listener into submission with excessive length, in an effort to declare their solo capability. Stealing hearts is an infinitely more subtle business; Jim James manages it in just 38 heartfelt, impeccably judged minutes.