Jim James is one of indie rock’s great chameleons. Whether building stadium rock as frontman of My Morning Jacket or sweet melodies as part of folk rock supergroup Monsters of Folk, James has never been afraid to change. And with Regions of Light and Sound of God, his debut solo album, James once again shifts stylistically, moving into funkier territory than he has approached in the rest of his work and finding himself in the process. After over a decade in music, James sheds his skin once more, delightfully finding his true colors as a performer.
On the album, James builds spacey, hazy compositions that more closely recall the futuristic sounds of Miguel and Active Child than the arena rock of his work with My Morning Jacket. Funk and R&B are clear influences across the album, especially on some of the more bass-heavy tracks. On “Actress,” the bass takes control, building mellow, infectious rhythms with James centering his vocals and guitar work around these bass melodies. “Of The Mother Again,” the album’s highlight, is an absolutely stunning track that features another catchy, funky bassline and guitar instrumentals that borrow from New Age music. “Know ’Til Now” is a rougher, synth-heavy track that builds textures out of vocal effects, while “All Is Forgiven” veers into jazz. James seizes the opportunity presented by this debut record to experiment, diverge sonically, and find a sound that ultimately fits his unique vision.
It’s not as if James has completely abandoned the styles that dominated the rest of his career. Arena rock and folk music are just as much part of James’ musical DNA as R&B. Compared to the rest of the album, “A New Life” and “Exploding” feel rather light, producing airy, folk-y melodies. Album opener “State of The Art” builds to a grand yet mellow melody, the likes of which could easily be found on a My Morning Jacket release.
Thematically, Regions of Light delves unsurprisingly deep into divine territory, with James seeming to tackle his own faith—or, at the very least, reflecting on life’s “big ideas.” A surprisingly ambitious album from a lyrical standpoint, Regions of Light uses intense, ambiguous, often trippy imagery—though never in a heavy-handed manner. “Of The Mother Again” clearly explores divine themes, even if they seem based in a hazy, ethereal world. “God’s Love To Deliver” has a similar conceit, with James conjuring up the big man himself. If Regions of Light is indeed a concept album, it functions so well because it never feels overly repetitive or, at the other end of the spectrum, overly vague.
James’ solo debut could easily have been a lazy affair, yet another solo debut that fails to capture the magic of a performer’s work as part of a group. Yet with Regions of Light, James goes further into his own psyche, conjuring rich melodies and fascinating imagery. If anything, James has surpassed most of My Morning Jacket’s work, building an album that captivates and surprises. If Regions of Light and Sound of God is an example of things to come, then James’ solo career has quite a lot of promise.