Jim James, known for impressive solo work when he’s not playing with his band My Morning Jacket, is coming out with a new album this Friday. It’s his second album of cover songs following the release of his first cover album “Tribute To.” Keeping with tradition, the dynamic artist has named this second album “Tribute To 2,” and features a brand new collection of covers old and new.
Coming off of a solo album of original music last year called “Eternally Even,” Jim James seems to be on top of his game. At this point in his career, the musician has morphed into the closest thing we have these days to a guitar-wielding, spiritually exploratory rock god of yesteryear. He’s more like George Harrison or Robert Plant than any of the emotionally vulnerable, reserved singers we find these days. He practices Transcendental Meditation, is an active philanthropist and plays, of course, lots of lots of music.
One of the central songs to James’ new tribute album is “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times,” an oft-covered and haunting track written by Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. The track was recorded fairly recently by jazz singer Kat Edmonson, whose quiet and dark version spoke to the despair and alienation present in the lyrics. On James’ version, we skip along to a production that pays homage to its 60s roots, James’ voice backed by strings and drenched in reverb:
“I keep looking for a place to fit
Where I can speak my mind
I’ve been trying hard to find the people
That I won’t leave behind
They say I got brains
But they ain’t doing me no good
I wish they could
Each time things start to happen again
I think I got something good goin’ for myself
But what goes wrong”
You can listen to the song with an accompanying video on YouTube, which is labeled as a “visualizer,” and mostly features psychedelic visions of James singing the song in the midst of colored spectrums of light moving and flowing across the screen. Horns and organ come in at the end to send off James’s lovely version of the song.
James really travels in time to uncover the songs for “Tribute To 2.” He includes early 20th century standards like “Midnight, The Stars, and You” and “Love is the Sweetest Thing” among 90s songs like Abbey Lincoln’s “The World is Falling Down.” Other songs include an early hit by Sonny and Cher (Baby Don’t Go) as well as songs by Willie Nelson (Funny How Time Slips Away) and Diane Izzo (Wild Honey).
In a time when cover albums have become an insufferable cliche, James proves that they can still be an enlightening and intriguing way to rediscover older music and figure out what we love about it. At it’s best, cover songs are a way of traveling through the ideas from music’s past and making them new again, finding your own voice in the process. As a solo artist, James has learned much from his influences, and he pays back his gratitude throughout “Tribute To 2.”
The album is out December 8th on ATO Records.