Restless artistic soul that he is‚ Jim James has taken My Morning Jacket on a wildly eclectic ride in recent years‚ in addition to his assorted collaborations in Monsters of Folk and New Multitudes‚ all of which varied efforts begged the question of whether James might've better have indulged his diverse taste(s) outside the group.
James' long-awaited solo recording‚ Regions of Light and Sound of God‚ reaffirms that impression as the nine tracks stand as something of a distillation of latter day Jacket albums (apart from the watershed It Still Moves and Circuital's more streamlined rock and roll). "State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)" is an obvious choice for an opener‚ perhaps too much so‚ but the relative simplicity of this piano-driven ode to the muse‚ as well as the brevity of the cut‚ sets a tone for the album.
The warmth of the soulful falsetto James uses to sing "State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)" offsets the preponderance of synthesizer lines and‚ likewise‚ the summery tones in the vocals of "Actress" prevent the drum track from rendering the track robotic. "A New Life" sounds like nothing so much as traditional gospel in dance music style‚ again affecting a balance of style‚ albeit a precarious one: apart from all other textured sounds here‚ Jim's vocals display his usual passion‚ and while he admits to succumbing to a temptation to play most all the instruments as a fundamental premise for this album‚ he has nothing to apologize for in that regard.
In fact‚ the appearance of the acoustic guitar foundation to the abbreviated instrumental "Exploding" maintains an intimacy that waxes and wanes during the course of the album's thirty-eight minutes plus playing time. There's also a playful quality permeating cuts like "Dear One" that cushions the creeping sanctimony of the lyrics‚ even as the man's largely lovable eccentricity renders charming those songs such as "God's Love" and "A New Life‚ that might be off-putting in their borderline-smug spirituality.
Despite the fact Jim James is taking this project seriously enough to mount a full scale supporting tour‚ during which he's using a handpicked band to replicate the dense recording (in contrast to most of his past solo appearances and his homage to George Harrison Tribute To…)‚ it's nevertheless debatable how many listeners‚ apart from devoted fans of the man‚ will dote on this music instead of treat it as just a passing digression form his main creative outlet. Fascinating‚ as is Regions of Light and Sound of God‚ on its own terms‚ future My Morning Jacket efforts may be the true test of its success.