Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Album Review: Jim James- Eternally Even

Jim James
Eternally Even
***and1/2 out of *****
On Jim James first solo album, 2013's Regions of Light and Sound and God, the My Morning Jacket front-man was spiritual and positive throughout. Eternally Even continues the crooners love of skittering beats, digital-dance funk and soulful bass, but his outlook is a lot less rosy.

Clearly effected by the current state of politics, violence and race relations James tones back on his falsetto flights of fancy, getting plainspoken and direct. From the start he directly addresses things with "Hide In Plain Sight" calling out bigots via a mix of old school R&B, updated digital bleeps and feedback fuzz; the bass line here and throughout can be intoxicating.

However there is no bumping bass for the following directness as "Same Old Lie" skitters about moving from indictment of the whole system to warbling string laden, eastern tinged dance instrumental to close the last two minutes of the effort. The track shows both the pluses and minuses of James on this album; willing to go anywhere, but convoluting things in the process. Acting as a an indictment dance party it works, but the oddly engaging music to close dilutes the preceding screed.

The follow up "World In Spirit" is better but is still overcooked with its mid song digital break and chopping. Before that though James does his best Marvin Gaye (his major influence for the whole album) with topical lyrics over updated Motown grooves. That feel turns more gospel with the searching and worldly "The World's Smiling Now". Up to this point the album may be flawed but it is still a success, that changes when it hits the wall of "We Ain't Getting Any Younger Parts 1 & 2".

Part 1 is a six minute instrumental that may have been too long at six seconds, as a mid album focal point it is stunning in its blandness. Acting as place holder or intermission music Part 1 fails, but Part 2 tries to save things with a foreboding, Leonard Cohen inspired vocal delivery about creeping death. Alone it would be a fine track, if you are listening digitally feel free to skip Part 1 completely.

The old school R&B comes back to close the album. "True Nature" finds the bass bouncing things back on track (both producer Blake Mills and James himself are credited with playing bass and both should be commended for that contribution). James breathy clipped vocals return to his Marvin Gaye theme encouraging the listener to "Do whatever feels right". Sonic over-saturation still abounds but James grooves it long for "In The Moment" with wispy horns sweeping throughout. The slow crooning title track allows James to vocally shine, but his singing is clearly not his motive on this record, his theme that time is passing us by and we need to do something is the point.  

Overall this album feels more substantial then Regions of Light and Sound and God. Powerful but flawed, where it might be better to cut down on all the tricks, instrumental interludes and pro-tools studio options, and focus on his lyrics and theme. However as is, Eternally Even delivers an honest expression of disconnected anguish with a silver lining of hope for 2016.
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