Jim James is from Louisville, Ky., but calling him a country act is a stretch. Sure, the otherworldly singer often sounds as if he's lost in deep echoing woods, but only because that's where his spaceship crash-landed.
The man who refers to himself as "Yim Yames" is an eccentric and then some, never more so than on curiouser new LP Regions of Light and Sound of God, his first official sabbatical from his day gig leading My Morning Jacket.
The critically beloved (if cultishly appreciated saleswise) MMJ doesn't do normal, either. With James as its loopy frontman, the Southern Gothic rock band's albums are head-snapping epics ranging from space boogie to metallic jams to country-flecked anthemic rock.
By his lonesome, James is far less aggressive and far more spiritually concerned — both musically and lyrically — which might be a problem for some. But if you're in the mood for warm, gauzy cocoons of trippery: bingo.
Some might know James for his high-arching onscreen rendition of Goin' to Acapulco that was the gut-punch climax to 2007 Dylan biopic I'm Not There. That was a forceful, front-of-the-mix vocal, a starmaking moment. On Regions of Light and Sound of God, James, who can also be a ferocious guitar player, is in no mood to show off any which way. This is for your chill-out moments, religious and otherwise. On the standout track All Is Forgiven, his voice comes off like a muted muezzin's call, the loping, reverent song nothing less than Middle Eastern jazz bop.
On the Cat Stevens-ish New Life, a cut seemingly born in a sunny '70s meadow ("Babe, let's get one thing clear / There's much more stardust / When you're near"), a midsong tempo change doesn't affect his soft sweet vocal until the very end, when things chug. Even more mellow, he hits a starlight falsetto on God's Love to Deliver, which posits Martin Luther King as deified mouthpiece.
James' dismissal of typical pop routes might be a turnoff to some, but he's not an elitist. An instrumental called Exploding is just as heart-melting as and reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel's April Come She Will from The Graduate. A slyly plodding State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.) is a headphone special that plays with words and sound effects, James' "state of the art"-ness fizzing out at the end. And the relatively grooving Know Til Now is James' own weirdo version of disco — just don't expect the Bee Gees.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.