My Morning Jacket's magnetic frontman Jim James has released two solo albums of original material, Regions of Light and Sound of God (2013) and Eternally Even (2016). Both glisten with thoughtful lyrics and soul-nourishing beats. His first solo attempt, though, was the 2009 EP of George Harrison and Beatles covers, Tribute To, which he compiled shortly after Harrison's death in 2001. His vocals are simple, yet elliptical. His renditions of "My Sweet Lord" and "All Things Must Pass" are particularly haunting and exquisite.
Released by ATO Records today, Tribute To’s follow-up Tribute To 2 is comprised of James' elegant take on American classics, dipping into the country, jazz and American standards realms. While most of the songs are throwbacks, he also tackles a modern gem, Diane Izzo's "Wild Honey," which is perfectly suited for the caverns of his vocal instrument. The eleven tracks range in themes from love to reminiscing to soaking in all there is to appreciate about life. The opening track, a cover of The Beach Boys' "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times," is a sparse and intimate take on the classic ‘60s song. This tune also defines James' aura and sound, which seems of this time, but also before it.
While My Morning Jacket has a rollicking contemporary sound, James' solo work exhibits the wide range of his talent, illustrating that it can be neo-soul cool one minute and contemplative, bare-bones, sparse retro the next. James' take on Sonny and Cher's "Baby Don't Go" vocally has a John Lennon a quality to it: introspective, pained, delicate. James makes the plea of the song ring true with his earnest delivery.
Elvis Presley made "Crying in the Chapel" popular, but it was originally written by Texan Darrell Glenn at the Loving Baptist Church on Fort Worth’s North side. James adds his seemingly anointed vocals to it, giving it the spiritual ardor it needs. Emerson, Lake & Palmer's staple "Lucky Man" is given humble treatment by James, who knuckles into the crevices of the lyrics, like he's relaxing in an easy chair. The last track, Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies," truly shows James' vocal acuity. His voice can lend itself to a Broadway tune, with its many falsetto peaks.
James revisits these classics as if he's living in the moment of the songs’ original messages, as well as in the respective eras when they were made. He takes us on his journey with a master musician's care, and by performing covers this time ’round, James shows us the only way forward is to look back.
Notable Tracks: “Crying in the Chapel” | “Funny How Times Slips Away” | “I Just Wasn't Made for These Times” | “Lucky Man”