Keeping the Soul Alive

The sophomore solo album by My Morning Jacket frontman deals heavily in introspective psychedelia but provides sweet relief

Jim James / Eternally Even

For most people, the name Jim James has always been associated with American southern rock outfit My Morning Jacket, the band he's been fronting over the last two decades with seven albums worth of discography. But those who follow the band more closely will know that James always had a solo career brewing inside of him as evidenced by his 2009 Tribute To EP, a six-track collection of George Harrison covers released under Yim Yames. The said EP was a precursor to his full-length solo debut, 2013's Regions of Light and Sound of God, and its follow-up, Eternally Even.

Compared to musically eclectic Regions, James' latest offering is decidedly more focused and inward-looking. Co-produced by Blake Mills (Fiona Apple, Alabama Shakes, John Legend), the album vacillates effortlessly between the realms of woozy psychedelia and vintage jazz-tinged soul.

Opening cut Hide in Plain Sight kicks off with a lethargic instrumental intro built on droning keyboards, taciturn bassline and serrated solo guitar. "You don't know you can't see it ain't right/ Did you think you could hide in plain sight," he chimes in. "Life goes on with or without you/ But I hope you know I still care about you."

Addressing this year's US election, Same Old Lie relies on the loose, jam-session feel punctuated with occasional string and outro-ed by a rousing Middle Eastern instrumentation. "It's the same old lie you been readin' about/ Bleedin' out, now who's getting cheated out?/ You best believe it's the silent majority/ If you don't vote, it's on you, not me," he sings, his words ringing even more poignant now that Donald Trump has been elected the 45th president of the USA.

Here in Spirit hovers on a breezy groove and ends with one solid minute of psych-rock flourishes.

The World's Smiling Now offers a lovely amalgam of nocturnal soul and jazz. This is then followed by the two-part We Ain't Getting Any Younger, the first being entirely instrumental while the second revisits the funky bassline of earlier tracks with James musing about the inevitability of mortality ("Time's your oyster/ The grave is always getting closer").

True Nature and In the Moment both exude the sort of after-hours funk typically heard in a sophisticated jazz bar while the otherworldly title track closes out the set with a dose of optimistic melancholy: "Sun's out/ Not a thought about the rain/ No trace of tears or pain/ I hope you're having a wonderful life."

A wonderfully cohesive record, Eternally Even finds Jim James taking a handful of jazz-leaning soul influences and brilliantly weaving them into the sonic fabric of '70s psychedelia. The overall mood may lean towards quiet and contemplative (and at times political), but the record's relaxed vibes, a good chunk of which comes from James' soothing vocals, make it one of the most refreshing listening experiences we've had the pleasure of having this year.


THE PLAYLIST

Natural Frequency/ Flying High Over Beautiful Land of Smiles

Natural Frequency is an up-and-coming musical project helmed by a mysterious Chiang Mai-based musician. His debut single, Flying High Over the Beautiful Land of Smiles, comes with a mouthful of a title and heavily draws inspiration from the nostalgic vibes of '80s synth-pop. Clocking in at almost five minutes, this is a mid-tempo instrumental piece that takes its time to develop and expand without ever once succumbing to sonic monotony. We're really looking forward to hearing more from this guy.

Kate Bush/ And Dream of Sheep

Kate Bush has given one of her old classics, And Dream of Sheep, a live treatment. Originally appearing on her highly-lauded fifth studio record Hounds of Love, the track is a piano ballad centred around the notion of drowning ("If they find me racing white horses/They'll not take me for a buoy/Let me be weak, let me sleep/And dream of sheep"). Named after the tour, Bush's live album Before the Dawn was released just last week and made up of three acts, including seven greatest hits, a selection from Hounds of Love, and a final suite of songs from Aerial.

John Mayer/ Love on the Weekend

John Mayer is back with a new single, Love on the Weekend, and he's giving us some serious flashback to his earlier work. The track, his first in three years, harkens back to Mayer's laidback pop-rock territory with breezy guitars that dominated much of his 2001 debut, Room for Squares. "You be the DJ, I'll be the driver/You put your feet up in the getaway car/I'm flying fast like a wanted man/I want you, baby, like you can't understand," he croons in a slightly country/blues style. Existentially titled The Search for Everything, his seventh studio album is scheduled to drop some time next year.

Sevdaliza/ Human

Following her two stellar 2015's debut EPs Children of Silk and The Suspended Kid, self-taught singer-songwriter Sevdaliza has dropped a beguiling new cut, Human. Operating on the periphery of mainstream pop, the Iran-born, Rotterdam-based artist fuses atmospheric electronics with languorous R&B grooves in much the same way boundary-pushing provocateurs like Arca and FKA twigs have done. "I am sweat, flaws/I am veins, scars/I am human/Nothing more than human," she muses in unison with a ghostly bassline. The whole thing is fascinating and unnerving in equal parts.

Jorja Smith/ Something in the Way

Rising British R&B singer-songwriter Jorja Smith has left a huge impression on us earlier this year with her stellar debut single, Blue Lights. Now, the 18-year-old newcomer has finally put out Project 11, the five-track debut EP on which Something in the Way appears as an opener. Introduced by ethereal vocalising, the song flaunts sophisticated jazzy guitars and Smith's gritty, yet soulful vocals that somewhat recall Frank-era Amy Winehouse. We predict more great things from this girl.

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