Review: Jim James, 'Eternally Even'
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"You can't build love out of guns and blood and sorrow," sings Jim James in "Same Old Lie." It's one of the standout tracks on the My Morning Jacket frontman's latest solo album, Eternally Even — an album that's not afraid to steep itself in the dark side. Where his last solo outing, 2013's Regions Of Light And Sound Of God, was suffused with delicacy and light, Eternally Even is gritty and grim. "Same Old Lie" is more than a lament about the state of our violent, fearful world; in it, James croons in a husky whisper about hatred and decay as drifting strings and a raga-like coda drone menacingly around him.
The rest of the album follows suit. James, however, takes all that foreboding and makes it funky. "Hide In Plain Sight" is saturated in weird, raw textures, with distorted organs oozing everywhere. "You don't know, you can't see, you ain't right / Did you think you could hide in plain sight?" sings James with bloodshot awe, like he's lying in a warm pool and gazing up at a solar eclipse. Deep and mournful, the song has an R&B vibe that's undeniable, even as James pushes his grooves into the red. The album's funkiest track, "In The Moment," may ride on slapped bass and a fat, brass-spiked chorus, but it meanders around in a pensive haze: half Marvin Gaye, half Leonard Cohen.
That said, there are instances of lightness on Eternally Even. Okay, there's one instance: "Here In Spirit" not only cracks the blinds a bit, it lets in a lively beat, huge hooks and an airy clarity. It's a refreshing break from the oppressive intensity of the rest of the album; James coughs up his gravel and adopts a higher, sweeter tone, and he even goes so far as to urge, "Believe what you want / Go on, be who you are." A layer of shadow still lurks around the edges, but for the most part, "Here In Spirit" is the burst of pop sunlight that helps illuminate Eternally Even's moodier, murkier moments.
But the sunlight quickly passes. "We Ain't Getting Any Younger" is a nine-and-a-half-minute song split into "Pt. 1" and Pt. 2" and situated squarely in the middle of the album. "Pt. 1" is instrumental; "Pt. 2" has vocals. Taken together, they're a crumbling monument to mortality. Amid throbbing rhythms and sultry, atmospheric melody, James ruminates on how "Seasons changed / Time got strange / Fell off the edge of the world" before softly delivering the ultimate blow: "Time's your oyster / But the grave's always getting closer." He comes across as a mystic, a doomsayer, a hypnotic reminder of the end we can't escape. At age 38, and with the steady success of My Morning Jacket at his back, James is already feeling the quiet pressure of death. Consummate singer-songwriter that he is, though, he's spun that into another batch of arresting, soulful and, at times, transcendent tunes.
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