Release Date: Dec 8, 2017
Record label: ATO
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
M y Morning Jacket, the Kentucky rock band Jim James has fronted since 1998, are known for their line in eclectic cover versions, having paid homage to everything from Erykah Badu's Tyrone to Elton John's Rocket Man. As if to cement his dedication to the art, James's first move as a solo artist was to release Tribute To, an EP of George Harrison covers. It's successor stays largely in that 60s/70s milieu, and includes a gorgeous, minimalist version of the Beach Boys' I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, and a bizarrely sloppy (albeit quite amusing) cover of Dylan's I'll Be Your Baby Tonight, which James sings as though he has a mouthful of marbles.
Jim James is one of the hardest working artists of his time. Through his two-decade long career, the Louisville native has released seven studio albums with My Morning Jacket , one album with Monsters of Folk , another with the New Basement Tapes, and, as of now, five solo albums. Alongside his lengthy studio repertoire, James has toured and recorded with the New Orleans-based Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
For Jim James, grief is often best expressed through other people’s music. In 2001, the My Morning Jacket frontman worked through his sadness over the death of George Harrison by retreating with a guitar and an eight-track and recording an elegiac collection of the ex-Beatle’s music. Focused yet feverish, those spare tracks would eventually be released to the world as Tribute To in 2009 and provide yet another affirmative data point in the argument for James’ underrated prowess as a bedroom folk maestro.
Composed of just six tracks, all of them covers of George Harrison songs, and released under the quasi-pseudonym Yim Yames, Jim James's 2009 EP, Tribute To, always seemed like a lark. Its sequel is decidedly more robust. Not only is the awkwardly titled Tribute To 2 a full-length album, featuring covers from wide-ranging sources, but it's consistent in mood and surprising in depth, its songs working together in dialogue with one another.
Tribute To 2 opens with Jim James's take on 'I Just Wasn't Made for These Times', conceived while the singer was writing liner notes for a re-release of Isaac Hayes' Hot Buttered Soul. His re-imagining comes by way of the multi-track recordings for Hayes' 18-minute version of 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix', resulting in a sparkling, soulful reassembly that absolutely remains true to the spirit of the original. Comprised of work from various sessions that span a period of years, James says of Tribute To 2: 'These are some of my favourite covers - songs I recorded trying to bring myself peace during a rough time or trying to make myself laugh or just have fun.
In his story "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote," Jorge Luis Borges imagines a literary critic in thrall to an exact modern facsimile of the Cervantes epic--a book "verbally identical" to the original yet, in the critic's estimation, "infinitely richer" for the new meanings its duplicated pages have accrued in the 20th century compared to the "mere" 17th. There is a distinctly Pierre Mendardish aspect to Jim James' take on the cover album. When the My Morning Jacket singer elects to record a compilation of songs mostly from the 1960s and 1970s in 2017, what stands out, aside from his interpretive choices, is primarily the question of differing vantage.
C osmic rockers My Morning Jacket aren't the force of old but, as this album of cover versions shows, their frontman's voice remains a potent instrument. From the Beach Boys' I Just Wasn't Made for These Times to Elvis Presley's Crying in the Chapel, these are songs brimming with anguish and regret, qualities that lend themselves to James's supple tones. Occasionally, particularly on the standards, he tries too hard to make the track his own, adding unnecessary howls and flourishes.
The tracklist of this second album of covers from the My Morning Jacket frontman is a "traditionalist" music fan's dream. With the originals described as "songs of hope", the "surprise" release connects tracks from Dylan, Isaac Hayes, The Beach Boys, Sonny & Cher and even ELP. Each is imbued with a reverb-heavy melancholy only James' voice can really maintain in the modern rock world, for want of a better umbrella term.
Back in 2009, Jim James released Tribute To, a heartfelt, organically produced EP of George Harrison covers. Tribute to 2 has no single artist focus -- it's comprised of covers James' cut over several years in different studios. He starts off auspiciously with a spacy, soulful reading of Brian Wilson's "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times," that touches Isaac Hayes' mighty arranging skills.