While Jim James makes powerful music with My Morning Jacket, his versatility and talents can make even a record of covers feel like a dynamic and refreshing classic. Covering artists like The Beach Boys, Elvis, Willie Nelson, and even Sonny and Cher, James transforms himself across this record while maintaining a consistent voice. Blurring the lines of genre and era, this is truly a record that you will forget isn’t wholly original material.
The delicate and tender piano hooks that start the record on “Baby Don’t Go” are as heartbreaking as James lyrics, telling an absolutely devastating story of moving away. Bringing the energy of the track to something more sombre and emotional, James is able to add a whole new level of depth to the song that was drowned out before. “Blue Skies” rolls in lo-fi excitement, soaring like the backing to an epic western while falling under dark filter of compression that somehow elevates its impact.
“Crying In The Chapel” takes its slow guitar sway smartly, letting the ethereal vocal reverb place James right in the titular church. Along with his beautiful delivery on the song, the clever mix gives the track a sense of place that makes it special and unique to listen to. While “Funny How Time Slips Away” is a lot simpler sonically, the intimacy that James brings out of the narrative is the real standout on this song, especially as he completely stops the tempo at times to bring things close.
The soul grooves of “I Wasn’t Made For These Times” are glorious as James manages to infuse disco-style production to the much slower beat. Expanding the harmonies more and more, the song is a slow-burning instrumental powerhouse that has a deep richness to its sound. “I’ll Be Your Baby” tonight fits country into the album’s sound surprisingly well as James highlights the deep lyrical sadness behind the song. Almost unrecognizable, James shows his abilities as a performance chameleon on this track that only really struggles with its all too overdone country chords.
“Love Is The Sweetest Thing” glides along its cute piano lines, with James giving both a weirdly warped bass harmony and even a lisp to his vocals for something bizarrely enchanting. A powerful reimagining of a classic, James’ version has a delightful spooky tone to its sound that is hard to ignore, especially through his vocal solo. The mystical folk of “Lucky Man” slowly builds on its synths and harmonies to make a spiritual and larger than life sound for the simple tale behind it. Although the writing of the song is a bit simplistic by today’s standards, James does offer a lot more to grab onto.
The quirky and old-timey piano melodies of “Midnight, The Stars and You” already gain a lot of personality from the lighthearted playing behind them, but James eerie crooning adds a startling haunting layer to it. While not entirely that different from some other songs on the record, these tracks are a lovely novelty to behold, as James adds a wonderful bit of personality to them.
“Wild Honey” leads into the album’s finale with a raw guitar and inspiring crawl of strings, making for a song that pulls you in on its dulcet tones. Even though its sound stands out more than its writing, fans of more long-form folk will be in heaven. Where “The World Is Falling Down” doesn’t stand out in its guitar and writing on the album, it more than compensates through the background of the track. As strings and an organ groan, James vocals reach their highest and even most warbled of the record, as he closes out on a boundary-pushing note.
Words by Owen Maxwell