Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#844 in the Series) is Jim James, Regions of Light and Sound of God.
Jim James is one of those voices that I heard in the chaos of my house, and immediately stopped everything and listened. It was the first time I had heard his voice. He was singing “Steam Engine”on vinyl on our Carver stereo. I was immediately smitten. (My husband was about one day ahead of me hearing them on the radio and went out and bought their vinyl.) We spent the better part of the year learning their discography and spent many a dollars seeing them whenever possible.
We had the privilege of being able to go to New York City and watch them perform all five of their albums at Terminal 5. They performed one album per night). I believe by the end of the week, they played 99 songs total, many of them were covers after they played the album in its entirety.
On the first night when they performed “The Tennessee Fire,” Jim James came out under a spotlight, and started to play “I Will be There When You Die”. For the first time in my life, I knew I had to record the entire thing. I was ill-prepared, stuck in a crowd, but attempted it anyway. The point of that story is this: When I was trying my hardest to balance my phone and succeed in recording one FULL song, I remember thinking how excruciating beautiful it was, and how amazing it would be if he would stay on stage and play more by himself.
Well, 4 years later, he made his solo debut. The name of the album is Regions of Light and Sound of God. Not only did he produce and engineer this album, he also played every instrument.
According to James, in 2008, while he was recovering from a nasty fall onstage, a friend gave him a copy of Lynd Wardʼs novel Godsʼ Man. It chronicled an artist’s dark temptation with the devil, and apparently it brought to the surface many songs and ideas buried deep within. His new album can definitely be described as spiritual, albeit not religious, with so many intriguing, soulful grooves thrown in.
“I wanted the album to sound like it came from a different place in time. Perhaps sounding as if it were the past of the future… like a hazy dream that a fully-realized android or humanoid capable of thought might have when it reminisces about the good old days of just being a simple robot.”
From the beginning song,” State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U),” he captivates you with his breathy, quiet, echoed voice while subtly playing the piano. Slowly the song builds, with added timpani, bass, and some funky guitar, all the while singing about conflicting observations of inner and outer worlds, the past and the future.
“Know ʻTil Now” highlights James angelic voice while morphing into a blissful, jazzy tune with a little disco thrown in. He sings about how he is finally seeing things in the present that he was blind to previously.
“Dear One” begins swiftly with what I can only describe as fuzzy folk, a more upbeat song filled with his heart and soul, while the lyrics refer to someone indeed very dear to him. It is in the song that I hear the simplicity of Jamesʼ thinking, that ultimately to love and be loved is enough for him.
“A New Life”, in my opinion, is the song that perfectly describes how his life has changed since his fall, and shows the parallels to Godsʼ man. It is brilliant in demonstrating how a song can start out slow and slowly build up to pure perfection. My favorite line is “Thereʼs much more stardust when youʼre near/I think I’m really being sincere/I want a new life, with you.” What I can’t seem to figure out though, is whether the girl he is referring to is real, or a figment of his imagination.
“Exploding” is a gorgeous, instrumental gem in the middle of the album, and brings up images of James playing his guitar on a hammock on a tropical island, or alone on a park bench. Simple and contemplative with beautiful guitar rhythms.
“Of the Mother Again” continues with this hazy, light feeling, but adds some deep lyrics that speak about the brevity of life. “No song ever plays, nothing ever stays, the same way, for too long.” “Good or bad, short or sweet, skip a beat ,close your eyes and it’s gone“. I believe this one line describes everything in this album; love, relationships, destiny, and life. He stresses how, in the blink of eye, things change, and you can almost feel his sadness and his regret for possibly falling for someone who either hurt him or was never real in the first place.
“Actress” kicks off with violins, and eases into a slow, pop funk. It is the one song on this album where I feel James is actually quite cynical yet sincere. Clearly questioning the authenticity of a girl or a relationship, and addressing her directly.
“You’re good at making everyone believe that they love you A little wink of the eye, a little glimpse of the thigh and we’re in heaven Whether or not it’s true /I believe in the concept of you /With personality /Destructing reality.”
The last two songs have somewhat of an Eastern feel to them, clearly channeling George Harrisonʼs influence on James. (Recalling 2009ʼs Tribute To collection of covers he released under the name Yim Yames)
In “All is Forgiven”, I feel that James finally shows zero restraint, and lets his beliefs and fears be heard. Almost as if he is questioning himself about his beliefs of forgiveness and absolution out loud for the world to hear. But he does so using a haunting combination of his voice along with a slow rhythm section, and a beautiful saxophone accompaniment.
The finale of this brilliant album is a bewitching, quiet, powerful song titled “Godʼs Love to Deliver”. Clearly referencing Dr. Kingʼs goals and dreams, he simultaneously delivers a message to Dr. King and the listeners. A message about love, equality, eliminating evil, and a common connection to God. He talks to King as if they are old friends, while his vocals make him sound completely vulnerable.
When I listen to the album, it feels to me like Jim James is actually floating between the real world and some other heavenly world, while brilliantly using his instruments to represent the music of the past and the future. As if he has been somewhere and experienced something that none of us have yet to experience.
As a whole, this album definitely explores Jamesʼ spiritual side, but it is never preachy. Itʼs as if he just invited us along this journey while he contemplated his own beliefs. It is mesmerizing and cohesive from start to finish, soulful, sublime and mature. Clearly an indication of artistic brilliance.
–Cathy Brown Brown (Follow Cathy on her Blog HERE)
- “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)” 5:17
- “Know Til Now” 6:26
- “Dear One” 3:10
- “A New Life” 4:28
- “Exploding” 2:00
- “Of the Mother Again” 3:53
- “Actress” 4:38
- “All Is Forgiven” 4:56
- “God’s Love to Deliver” 3:36
Listen to it below. This is a playlist that contains multiple songs
Here are more 2013 releases