It's been fifteen years since the reverberating wails of Jim James' silo-stained voice taught us about the heartbreakin' man. Since then, we've regularly followed the lamplight of his modern parables; 'Steam Engine', 'Gideon', that 'Bermuda Highway' – no matter how frozen the landscapes, James' warming breaths always scream honesty (sometimes literally). Through that constant alone and the sheer process of psychological regurgitation, a debut solo effort is a promise to get closer to Jim's centre and subconscious and, more often than not, you expect deeper themes with less reprieves. Inspired by an ambition to take you to the purgatory of a "different place in time" comes his debut solo album Regions of Light and Sounds Of God
"Daylight come, daylight go" – the record rises with a warm piano motif, cradled by the touch of a spacious vocal. As vowels fall against stuttered rhythms, the unaffected barefoot nature of this slow and progressive piece couldn't surmise James' unprocessed background any better. Scepticism toward a technologically determined world is the defining sentiment here, and it is crowned beautifully by the white-noise dissembling and hypnotic mantra "the power is going out" rounding off the five and a half minute number.
As you're caressed by its cyclical brass solo and Krishna-esque waves, 'I Didn't Know Til Now' soon depicts just how close this project is to the man at its core. Beyond the fact that near-enough all the playing on the album was done by Jim, there are so many raw energies on the record. The emotional nature of content is immediately grasping and, if there's anything that the southerner's 15-year tenure has taught us, it's that he operates beyond vanity.
Croons behind a smile and a burst of sincere laughter feel like the beginning of a second movement on Regions of Light and Sounds Of God. 'A New Life', is garnished by hand-patted electric chords, washes of twee keys and, eventually, a shoebox-loose backbeat with nasal brass in tow. With tips of a Stetson in many directions, there's a welcomed sense of familiarity about this tune, enforced by the arrival of its transitional neighbour 'Exploding', and the undeniable "sweet relief" of 'Of The Mother Again'.
"You're good, at making everyone believe that they love you" is the opening line of 'Actress'; a wonderful song with a strong narrative that marks the third movement of this album.
It's well-documented that this release is largely inspired by a 1929 graphic novel named 'God's Man' - an oeuvre that details an artist's encounters with corruption and search for true love, however, there's no loss of sincerity or sentiment on the album. Jim James is singing about his own life but he just happens to share "strange and beautiful" parallels with the book. This does in-turn ally itself with spirituality, but only as much as you'd expect from a man whose obsession with both mortality and morality has always been apparent.
The record spirals into moments of isolation and soothed-anxiety toward its ending, and it's truly encapsulating. "Who said that all is forgiven?" There's loneliness and acceptance that characterises a lightless body of water that you won't find on the dustiest MMJ demo-tape. Intertwined with soft-edged brass, glimpses of banjo and backward samples of James; his vocal performance on 'God's Love To Deliver' is a breathtaking citadel.
You can delve as deep into My Morning Jacket's back catalogue or James' subconscious demoing and you won't find anything that's as centred and consistent in its themes as this record. To claim that it's any more ambitious than his previous material would be wrong, however, the uncharacteristic whispers of solitude and confused obsessions with human nature are allied perfectly by the discomfort of his home studio and absolute concern allows him to take you a step further than he's been before.