Jim James - Regions of Light and Sound of God

My Morning Jacket's Circuital was incredible for me. I was physically very ill when I first discovered it, but I was determined to get better. As an exercise enthusiast, I figured exercise would be most effective way to heal my body and mind. I started off small, walking every other day for ten minutes, and gradually progressed and increased my strength. The soundtrack to my comeback was Circuital. Every walk I felt a little stronger, and every day I improved and was inspired by the heights of that brilliant Jim James voice coupled with the uplifting nature of the record. It became such a seminal record for me I know I shall remember it for the rest of my life as a companion during those desperately dark times.

At the centre of my revival was the spirit that existed within James' voice. Described by many as the best modern rock vocalist, the man has the ability to uplift, to inspire, to turn any song in to anything he wished. Unsurprisingly, his style has influenced the likes of height scalers Fleet Foxes and their lead vocalist Robin Peckfold. A perfectionist, James was known to record his vocals in a grain silo because it gave the perfect acoustic environment for him to create that brilliant other worldly quality he projects. As MMJ progressed, rather than alter his style the music served to bring it to the fore, and the seemingly reluctant front man became the focal point, with that voice beginning to lead the way through tracks like Lowdown and the haunting At Dawn.

The question must be asked, why a solo album now? The traditional reason for a lead singer to seek the freedom and solace of a solo project is to expand his or her musical identity beyond the confines of the band. I wouldn't, however, accuse MMJ of picking a lane and sticking to it. In fact there are so many conflicting and varied sounds found on individual albums you'd be hard pressed to attach a genre to them. The answer may lie in James' difficult period during late 2008-2009, where he read the novel Gods' Man and cites that as an inspiration for much of the music on Regions.

Whatever the reason, listeners are treated to Jim James and his beautiful voice in all it's glory. The focus of the record is summed up in the first 45 seconds of the first song, State Of The Art (A.E.I.O.U.). A desperately simple piano movement backs an ethereal James as he introduces us to his inner workings, singing about his process not only in terms of musical creation but his general inner peace within his everyday life. 'And now I know you need the dark / Just as much as the sun' sounds basic in print, but we're treated to a song where he muses. This isn't so much a statement as a strain of conscious thought. He even slips in 'I use my state of the art  / Technology  / Now don't you forget it / It ain't using me' to remind himself more than us he is creating from the heart and the mind, these are the inner workings of a soul singer rather than an exercise in technical proficiency. It's one of the best tracks of the year.

There is a lovely rhythm to the next two tracks, Know Til Now and Dear One. There's an inherent groove, you can feel the influence of MMJ seeping through and infecting the music. Both songs continue Jame's journey of personal discovery, although rather than the slightly nervous, unassured figure we see in the first song, a new personality trait emerges. 'I didn't know til now / How could I have known / But now I see, but now I see' he wails on Know Til Now. No wisdom or explanation is offered, but it's a tone set. Welcome messages, as anyone who has seen James perform or heard him intereviewed are keenly aware he is not the most confident or projecting of individuals. Dear One, a lovely sloping soulful feeling song with an oddly complimentary halting bass and percussion combination, even has him speaking with confidence and assuredness to a loved one, 'Dear one, you always pushed the boundaries of my soul / We fly found love and finally gained control'.

Control. James seems to crave it. A New Life is a wonderful, sleepy love song that sees him seek acceptance of his state of mind from his loved one. Self-assured once again, repeating 'I want a new life' over and over. The song actually turns in to this brilliant slow burner, and you may hate me for writing this, but it reminds me of the Lil Wayne song Let The Beat Build. Solely in construction, not sonically! But as James pleads his case, instrumentation is added, and it creates this wonderful sense of him putting forth an argument that gains momentum and commitment, until his requests are honoured 'Babe, open the door / And start your new life, / Oh, your new life'. The final minute feels like a joyful celebration.

That control he seeks is played out more self-consciously on Actress. An odd song that pairs a sleepy string section with a single plucked, disjointed riff, and even introduces a lazy sounding distorted guitar in the middle. A game, a myth figured out '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' leads you to believe James has cast this woman aside, unfit. Until he admits his lust 'Oh actress, fact is, I believed in the myth and the legend'. Flawed, but safe in that knowledge.

Genre hopping is something MMJ are quite prolific at, and you can feel and hear that Jim James hasn't limited himself to one or two stylistic influences on this record. There seems to be this great soul artist inside him that yearns to break free, and at times it bleeds through, but he keeps it penned in within this folk / indie cage. The album is only 9 songs long, and one of those is a 2 minute instrumental (Exploding) of 2 lightly strummed guitars that adds nothing. Then on All Is Forgiven, an odd Middle Eastern sound prevails for the entire track, turning aggressive and menacing at the back end, the only time that those years of jamming with his bandmates really shines through. He ends the record fittingly with his voice. Although its swamped by that odd Oboe-like sound on God's Love To Deliver, it adds to the atmospheric quality beautifully. Again using his voice to complement the instrumentation. That soul is caged once more.

6/10. An odd, disjointed release. Lyrically his themes are persistent and coherent, it is an extremely personal release and houses the thoughts and actions of the man himself. There is just this lack of cohesion within the music. There appears to be so many different ideas and sounds he wanted to explore, but for some reason he only gave himself 9 songs to do so. I wish he'd let that beautiful voice out of his box more often too, Jim James in full flight belting is a sound to behold, it's what I would've expected from a solo record of his. Still, a solid listen.
Best Tracks: State Of The Art (A.E.I.O.U.), A New Life, Know Til Now


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