Jim James

Feb 1, 2013 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson



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photo of Jim James

When we last checked in with Jim James, the charismatic and visionary frontman of the eclectic rock/soul/neo-psychedelic band My Morning Jacket, they had recorded a stunning album with co-producer/engineer Tucker Martine, called Circuital, essentially live in the studio, which in that case was actually an echo-y church school gymnasium in the band’s hometown of Louisville. That came out May 2011 and since then they’ve been touring almost nonstop all over the U.S., Europe, Canada, Mexico, Australia and Japan, bringing their mesmerizing, ever-changing live show to a multitude of festivals and headlining dates in large and small venues.

Somehow, in the midst of what must seem like a never-ending tour, James carved out short periods at home to complete his first full-length solo album, Regions of Light and Sound of God, just out on the ATO label. Call him eccentric, idiosyncratic, unique, whatever—if you’re at all familiar with his work, you just knew he would come up with something strange, beautiful and compelling on his own outside of MMJ, and that’s precisely what he did on Regions.

It’s definitely not a band album: James played most of the instruments himself and it’s chock-full of loops, samples, unusually layered instruments and vocals, and many interesting sonic touches. It’s all over the place stylistically, with nods to classic late ’60s/early ’70s soul and funk, a dash of doo-wop and more dreamy and poetic musical spaces. There are more keyboards than guitars (MMJ is quite guitar-oriented), with haunting piano on a couple of tracks, some Pink Floydian synths here, and some obviously Stevie Wonder-inspired synths there. James’ characteristic deeply reverb’d lead vocals are much in evidence, and throughout there are distorted bass and drum parts that contrast effectively with cleaner lines and smooth-as-silk strings that recall predecessors such as Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye.

“I consider Curtis Mayfield to be the Buddha; I look up to him so much,” James says. “His music is so important to all living beings, like water or air. Marvin was a darker force than Curtis, but I consider What’s Goin’ On to be perhaps the greatest album ever made. It speaks to every vein of the human experience, musically and otherwise.”

James is no newcomer to home recording. “I’ve been doing it since high school,” he states. “I started on a boombox, then got a 4-track, then started working with my cousin John and his 8-track reel-to-reel. We recorded a few things on ADAT early on, which was just a horrible medium, and we used to mix things to DAT—God, remember DAT? Now I own a Studer A827 with Pro Tools, etc., but with a good setup and good converters, I think digital sounds great. I have a Burl B2 Bomber [A-to-D converter] and the Apogee Symphony converters we used to mix the record.”

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