With My Morning Jacket taking a brief break, the prolific Jim James is trying something different with his recent solo album. “Regions of Light and Sound of God,” released last month, seems and sounds as though divine intervention has led the songwriter to new sonic soil.
Playing almost all of the instruments on the record, this isn’t your traditional stripped-down solo journey, but instead an epic musical onslaught that sounds as though a dozen people contributed to the final product.
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Taking his new tunes on the road, James has built a quartet comprised of fellow Louisvillians to help rebuild the audio architecture of the solo record in a live setting. After catching his first few shows in NYC last month, my skepticism quickly turned to satisfaction as the new band delivered some magical moments that not only gave life to the album, but took the songs to another level.
Focusing primarily on electronics, James’ band fills the instrumental backdrop while he mans the mic, taking on the role of the traditional frontman, and occasionally picking up random and often unlikely instruments.
While My Morning Jacket are no strangers to SXSW, James makes his first appearance at the festival this week as a solo act. MMJ’s first trip to the Austin came early in their career and James is quick to note the benefits of playing the festival back then.
“The year was 1914,” James says in jest. “The first settlers had just come onto the Austin shore. Alongside other explorers like us who had heard about the legend of gold in them rolling hills and mountain ranges of downtown Austin, we rolled into town just before dawn on March 13 of that year and took up shop at the Pecan Street Ale House … or was it Urban Outfitters … or was it Yard Dog? It's hard to say, the memory starts to slip with time and age and you have to brush those cobwebs away.”
All jokes aside, the venues and day of the month are real, but the year was 2002 and SXSW became one of the band’s first shows outside of Europe and Kentucky.
“It's all strange and wonderful,” says James. “I mean, we've worked our asses to the bone over the years and it feels good when you chase a dream and see some progress on that front. It’s very exciting and we are very grateful to the universe to have been allowed to make some progress on our dreams.”
‘True destiny’ on the line
Since their SXSW debut, My Morning Jacket has only played the festival one other time — in 2008. They went from being unknown hopefuls in 2002, to being one of the SXSW’s main attractions six years later while previewing their album, “Evil Urges.”
So what is Jim looking forward to seeing this year?
“My true destiny,” he says.
— Jim James plays three shows at SXSW and participates in a panel discussion and a non-SXSW-affiliated benefit show at Willie Nelson’s Ranch