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Wed February 13, 2013
Music Reviews

Jim James: On A Spiritual Quest In The Digital Age

Originally published on Wed February 13, 2013 9:44 pm

When he's leading his band My Morning Jacket, Jim James often comes across as a seeker — someone with at least passing curiosity about the metaphysical, if not the unknowable. On his first solo album, Regions of Light and Sound of God, his questioning goes a bit deeper.

Throughout the record, James is the typical lost soul looking for anything genuine in a sea of artifice. His vulnerable melodies give off a sense of profound doubt, like in "Actress," in which he watches a movie actress on the screen and wonders whether personality can be powerful enough to distort reality.

James isn't too sure about organized religion, either. He does believe in the notion of a higher power, and his faith in it animates the best of these songs. He works himself into a mood of fervent conviction in "All Is Forgiven," which explores trust and forgiveness.

People who know My Morning Jacket might hear that track and say that James is just re-branding songs that his band might have done better. But the rest of the album takes him far from his comfort zone. Playing most of the instruments himself, he journeys into the introspective aura of John Lennon's later solo work and the upbeat pop grooves that recall Motown in the early '70s.

Shifting away from the intensity of his band recordings, James allows his calm, beautifully expressive voice to become the central focus of this record. At once reflective and bewildered, he's in it for the long haul — asking the kinds of questions that don't have easy answers.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

You might know Kentucky singer and songwriter Jim James from his band, My Morning Jacket. Well, last year, he took some time off to work on a solo album. It's called "Regions of Light and Sound of God." Our critic, Tom Moon, says it's an interesting chronicle of James' spiritual quest.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: Jim James begins by looking somewhat skeptically at the worship of technology.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JIM JAMES: (Singing) I use the state-of-the-art technology. It's supposed to make for better living, are we better human beings? We got our wires all crossed...

MOON: Fronting his band My Morning Jacket, Jim James often comes across as a seeker, someone with a passing curiosity about the metaphysical, if not the unknowable. For this project, his questioning goes a bit deeper. He's the typical lost soul looking for anything genuine in a sea of artifice. His vulnerable melodies give off a sense of profound doubt. In this song, he watches a movie actress on the screen and wonders if personality can be powerful enough to distort reality.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JAMES: (Singing) You're good at making everyone believe that they love you. A little wink of the eye, a little glimpse of the thigh and we're in heaven. Whether or not it's true, I believe in the concept of you.

MOON: James isn't too sure about organized religion, either. He does believe in the notion of a higher power and his faith in it animates the best of these songs. He works himself into a mood of fervent conviction to put across this one, which explores trust and forgiveness.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JAMES: (Singing) I follow all the wrong dreams, lost in man's schemes, Oh lord. I pray that all is forgiven. All is forgiven, Oh lord.

MOON: People who know My Morning Jacket might hear that and say that Jim James is just re-branding songs his band might have done better. But the rest of the album takes James far from his comfort zone. Playing most of the instruments himself, he journeys into the introspective aura of John Lennon's later solo work and upbeat pop grooves that recall Motown in the early '70s.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MOON: Shifting away from the intensity of his band recordings, James allows his calm, beautifully expressive voice to become the central focus of this set. Bemused, reflective and bewildered all at once, he's a seeker who's in it for the long haul, asking the kinds of questions that don't have answers.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Jim James' solo album is called "Regions of Light and Sound of God." Our reviewer is Tom Moon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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