Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Album Review: Jim James - Uniform Clarity

Jim James 
Uniform Clarity
**and1/2 out of *****

Earlier this year Jim James released his best solo record yet with Uniform Distortion. The album returned him to fuzz buzzing guitars, excellent relaxed singing and a sense of confusion perfect for these turbulent times. Now comes Uniform Clarity and it does exactly what is implied by it's title, it strips away the feedback, backup singers and drums, leaving just James with his vocals and acoustic guitar playing the same songs.

This choice to repeat himself is a bold one, even down to the album art work. The companion album allows the listener to hear Jim deliver these songs unfettered while producer/engineer Shawn Everett (Alabama Shakes, The War On Drugs) just turned on the microphone and capture the strings, varied singing and blank space around the songs. The spotlight shines bright on the song writing and at times that isn't the wisest choice.

Without the added instrumentation and support the songs feel fine just not very memorable. A few songs do increase their appeal though. While the original "You Get To Rome" is a loose rocker, the acoustic version has a down home back porch twang with inspired singing. The biggest improvement between the two releases is clearly "Yes To Everything" which puts the focus on James self examining lyrics which are the best on the album. 

For the other releases things are simply fine, but never illuminating to the writing process or the recording style, just acoustic versions of songs; James clearly loves Dylan, but this is no Bootleg Series. His singing is direct and while it can soar gloriously, it can also sound silly at times such as on "No Use Waiting". The intimate nature of the project seems to have inspired him to try different enunciation with pretty goofy results on that tune while original banger "Better Late Than Never" does showcase some excellent delicate guitar playing.

There are two tracks which close out the album that are not on the original that deserve mentioning. The breathy "Too Good To Be True" which is remorseful and blue while "It Will Work Out" is more upbeat, a solid take on relationships, brightly ending the record and leaving one to wonder why it wasn't included on the original album as it seems tailored made for big guitars? 

Where Uniform Distortion was able to vibrantly scuff up the edges, Uniform Clarity shows these tunes warts and all. Fans will be happy to spend the time with James but for most listeners a curious listen will be enough to support the original.
Support the artist, buy the record and peep some video below:

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