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Jim James: Eternally Even

Doug Collette By

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With the very announcement of Eternally Even, My Morning Jacket's titular leader Jim James telegraphed the topical nature of his solo album, a somewhat disingenuous gesture to be sure, but ultimately a telling one. The sentiments as voiced in such a sing-song fashion on "Hide in Plain Sight" and "Same Old Lie" sound as superficial as the production and arrangements he's fashioned here with co-producer Blake Mills.

The latter is an artist in his own right, but has gained greater cachet as producer (for the Alabama Shakes and Dawes) and here he applies a glaring synthetic sheen to the sound. It's all quite similar to James' previous solo outing Regions of Light and Sound of God (ATO, 2013), yet these robotic rhythm tracks are even more prominent. The static nature of the backing on "Here in Spirit," for instance, belies its introspective bent, so such cuts end up more predictable than mesmerizing. James' homage to George Harrison, Tribute To (ATO, 2009), may not be a wholly comparable stylistic benchmark , but there's no mistaking the differing levels of engagement between that work done wholly by the artist himself, and this one, which had its germination in James' jams on his own over the years, before the collaboration with Mills, et, al.

"World's Smiling Now," however, has some real soul even with the same kind of rote backing because the keyboards and guitars shimmer alongside James' straightforward vocals, recalling the largely-misconceived MMJ album Evil Urges (ATO, 2008),which might better have been a solo album as well, "We Ain't Getting Any Younger Pt.1 &2" may betray the roots of this record, as well as James' well-intentioned concept, a bit too directly for its own good: the first instrumental section sounds like the work of an artist experimenting alone in his studio, while the second portion is adorned with words seemingly extemporized on the spot, not any enlightening (or enlightened) extension of the thought within the title.

In contrast, by the time "True Nature" rolls around, some genuine drive arises, emanating largely from the percussion and, not coincidentally, from saxophone work courtesy Charlie Gabriel, of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, that reveals one of Jim James' abiding influences, that of contemporary R&B. A similarly warm track, "In the Moment," reaffirms the thought James might do himself (and by extension his listeners) a favor by compiling an album's worth of covers by the likes of Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye; the structure of material by such esteemed figures would rein in James' tendency to wander instrumentally and dole out verbal platitudes as in evidence on this titlesong.

If, as Jim James suggests, this tune and, by extension, this album bespeaks a combination of awareness of and commitment to issues, its impact becomes too diffuse, over the course of its nine tracks and forty-plus minutes, to have lasting memorable effect.

Track Listing

Hide in Plain Sight; Same Old Lie; Here in Spirit; World’s Smiling Now; We Ain’t Getting Any Younger Pt. 1; We Ain’t Getting Any Younger Pt. 2; True Nature; In the Moment; Eternally Even.

Personnel

Jim James: bass, guitar, keyboards, organ, programming, synthesizer, vocals; Blake Mills: bass, drums, synthesizer; Brian Reitzell: drums; Kevin Ratterman: programming, synthesizer; Chris "Daddy" Dave: drums, percussion; David Stephen Givan: drums, percussion; Jim Keltner: drums, percussion; Rob Moose: strings, synthesizer; Shungudzo Kuyimba: vocals; Joan Shelley: vocals; Joseph Lorge: background vocals.

Album information

Title: Eternally Even | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: ATO

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