Release Date: Jun 29, 2018
Record label: ATO
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
On his first solo album, 2013's dauntingly titled Regions Of Light And Sound Of God, My Morning Jacket front man Jim James sought to subtly develop the established psychedelic folk-rock template of his parent band, with retro synthesisers playing a prominent role in what was an uncharacteristically meditative, ambient record. 2016's Eternally Even was a more focused and conventional although still musically ambitious collection, but James's latest outing, Uniform Distortion, sees him strip things right back to a brand of no frills, classic Southern rock that could have been recorded at any time over the past half century. Perhaps even more than My Morning Jacket's earlier, less experimental albums, Uniform Distortion faithfully channels the spirit of stellar forebears like Lynyrd Skynyrd or Neil Young and Crazy Horse, with searing, ragged electric guitars immediately to the fore.
There is more than a little to be said for looking back in order to clear the path while moving forward. Throughout his various solo endeavors, Jim James has been all over the musical map, from stripped-down acoustic songs (the first of two George Harrison tribute EPs) to electronically drenched spiritual songs (Regions of Light and Sound of God) to subdued experimental philosophical examinations (Eternally Even). Uniform Distortion finds James delving into the realms of lo-fi indie rock and homages to some of his classic rock heroes.
Roots music is, by definition, tethered to the land. It's a naturalistic sound born of dust and dirt, and it's a style that a young Jim James fully embodied when he emerged in 1999 as the frontman of Kentucky heartbreakers My Morning Jacket. But in the two decades since then, James' approach to roots music has become less about preserving certain sepia-toned agrarian aesthetics and more about emulating what actual plant roots do with patient nurturing: They blossom into splendorous flora, sprouting toward the sky in unpredictable shapes and directions.
Jim James' latest blend of scruffy, lo-fi riff rock is a very specific philosophy— initially inspired by Duane Michal's photo "The Illuminated Man," found in a 1971 issue of The Last Whole Earth Catalog— one that James has honed down over the course of his last three solo albums. 2013's Regions of Light and Sound of God unlocked the horrors of drastic technological advancements, while 2016's Eternally Even was a well-informed, psychedelic journey, capturing the ethos of a smoke-filled '70s soul lounge. But perhaps nothing prepared James for these blatant stylistic alterations like his 2017 covers album, Tribute to 2, where James expanded upon his typical George Harrison-worshiping tropes— such as 2009's Tribute To— and instead headed into uncharted territory, going the length to cover anything from Ray Noble's cult-classic 1934 jazz composition "Midnight, the Stars and You," to The Beach Boys at their most artistically ambitious, such as the Pet Sounds slow burner "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times.
Since 1999, the Louisvillian has released seven albums with his much-adored experimental roots rock band My Morning Jacket ; one as Monsters of Folk (with Conor Oberst , M. Ward and Mike Mogis); contributed to an album inspired by a collection of never-before-seen The Basement Tapes-era Bob Dylan lyrics that had been uncovered in 2014 (alongside Marcus Mumford, Elvis Costello and others); and put out two solo albums. It's an impressive output, and it's testament to the busy, curious mind James possesses, never at rest, always at play.