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First Listen: Jim James, 'Regions Of Light And Sound Of God'

NPR icon by Stephen Thompson
Neil Krug

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With My Morning Jacket, Jim James presides over a band whose only consistent characteristic is bigness, whether its members are raging through arena-sized rock 'n' roll, soaring like a choir or indulging a mile-wide playful side, with room for stomping funk, angelic ballads and everything in between. So it makes sense that, for his first solo album — not counting the gorgeous EP of George Harrison covers he recorded under the not-so-mysterious pseudonym Yim Yames — James would shrink his canvas down to where it captures the sound of a lost soul in search of something bigger than himself.

On Regions of Light and Sound of God, out Feb. 5, James conveys a kind of ringing plaintiveness: He's always liked to let his voice sound as if it's echoing into the void, but here, his attention seems to face inward instead of heavenward. Inspired by an 80-year-old book of woodcut art called A God's Man — which tells the dark story of an artist's redemption and lingering demons — James takes a similarly lonely journey on Regions of Light, on which he plays every instrument himself.

Regions of Light and Sound of God doesn't want for thematic ambition: It finds James unselfconsciously name-dropping both God and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Still, the album is at its best when James seems content to articulate the tender musings of a lonely mind. For all his grandiose ambitions, smallness suits him, too.

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