In his second solo album, My Morning Jacket front man Jim James trades in his free-flowing cape for the zipped up garb of an Everyman activist. Whereas James’ first solo outing, 2013’s ‘Regions of Light and Sounds of God,’ travelled through individually catered soirees of sound, ‘Eternally Even’ plants its stake firmly in murky, psychedelia inspired pleas. Purposefully released just four days before the U.S. Presidential election day, ‘Eternally Even’ boasts a late ‘60’s inspired sound that fits perfectly alongside it’s politically motivated subject matter.
While the first two tracks on ‘Eternally Even’ risk sounding too similar, one might credit James for purposefully doing so. With sameness comes a cold, inhuman breeze, which may speak to the political climate James is urging against. Over a looping organ and persistent percussion, James asks on the album opener ‘Did you think you could hide in plain sight?’ James’ lyrics are concise and pressing rather than poetic, implying the seriousness of the issues at hand.
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While the groovy haze that comes with James’ layered production mirrors his protest, the instrumentation in ‘Hide in Plain Sight’ also creates a mechanical whir that bleeds into the following ‘Same Old Lie.’ As James’ baritone trudges through a hypnotic drum beat on the track, he warns ‘If you don’t vote/ It’s on you/ Not me.’ Following these morose pleas for action comes a raga-like symphony that introduces the album’s shifting focus towards the at-risk facets of life we should be fighting to uphold.
Again, sound mirrors subject as the music becomes more lively, or life-like. While the jam-session vibe on the album requires multiple listens to appreciate, a tighter, more energetic sound serves James and the listener well. Such is the case on ‘Here in Spirit,’ written after James attended an L.A. rally in the aftermath of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shootings. Here, were shown what hate, like that rife in the current U.S. election, can do. A twinkling piano flutters alongside sweeter vocals like a million angel wings forcing their way through an airy resistance and James sings ‘If you don’t speak out/ We can’t hear it/ All of those always here/ Here in spirit.’ Notice the repetitive “here”/”hear” urging us to remember and memorialize those lost in the absence of kindness and equality.
Perhaps James purposefully chose songs for the album created in jam-sessions, songs where interest risks becoming lost. Perhaps James is pressing for multiple listens so his message becomes that much clearer. And perhaps this is simply holding James to his own artistic standard. Disregarding the album’s message and its output however, what’s certain is that musically, the songs on ‘Eternally Even’ would have benefited from the energy that usually billows under James’ cape.