Regions of Light and Sound of God
Reviewed by Michele Zipkin
As someone who is only tangentially familiar with Jim James’ work in My Morning Jacket, hearing the first track of his first solo album, Regions of Light and Sound of God, was pleasantly surprising. This album is a much-awaited release from a talented musician who has churned out several albums as frontman of MMJ, lent a hand in various musical projects including Monsters of Folk, and composed a song for the Bob Dylan film “I’m Not There”. This time James showcases his musical voice in his own collection of beautiful and genre-bending songs, all of which he engineered himself.
“State of the Art” rides on one three-chord progression with James singing in his trademark trippy way, and the instruments entering in layers. Compared to his work as part of MMJ, it seems like he is more closely exploring his psychedelic side with this record. Sure, there are still repetitive, trance-like riffs and melismatic use of vocals, but it seems like James takes a few more liberties, like in the last minute and a half of “Know Til Now”. The song decelerates into slow keyboard chords and droning sounds, which eventually pick up to a jazz extro with saxophones singing a forlorn little melody. The song’s main bass line is pretty slammin’, for lack of a better word. So many different styles make their voices heard on this record.
“A New Life” runs some acoustic and folksy contrast to some of the other higher energy and riffy songs, although does include some bouncing percussion and some cool horn arrangements. Some glockenspiel mirroring the melody of the horns gives it a slight otherworldly touch. “Exploding” is deceptive in its title, because the song is entirely acoustic, lyric-less, and serene. Its melody could probably lull you to sleep. “Actress” showcases some lush strings, a moving and grooving bass line, and some bite with a turn in the melody in the line “Whether or not it’s true”, with distorted guitar to kick things up a notch.
This record seems like one that John Lennon may have made, who always wanted his voice to sound not like his own, like it was coming from somewhere else. According to a press release, James took inspiration from Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On in making this album. This record is particularly important to James because “…it speaks to the soul and the body, it uses all forms of music, merging soul and funk with rock and classical… I always want to try to make music like that.” This use of multiple styles is evident in James’ own work with things like that funky bass line in “Know Til Know”, psychedelic patchworks of tones and windingly ethereal vocals in “All is Forgiven”, and the gentle strum of the guitar in “Exploding”.