This was a late entry on my list, but it hit me in the right places at the right time. I’ve been hesitant to embrace Jim James’s solo career away from his magnificent band, My Morning Jacket. But while MMJ has a more robust and well-rounded rock sound, James’s solo work tends to sound like the band drank a bunch of cough syrup and stayed up all night playing old 80’s synthesizers. The boozy horn arrangements on Eternally Even lay a stark contrast to MMJ’s Carl Broemel, who is as fierce with a saxophone as he is with a pedal steel guitar.
On his 2nd solo offering, James brings some of his most heartfelt and poignant songwriting to a landscape of dark, droning keyboards and slippery funk basslines, as evident on the opener ‘Hide in Plain Sight’. It could even be a break-up album, as both the title track and the lead single ‘Here In Spirit’ discuss letting go of past love with a positive message – love doesn’t die, it just changes. On the other hand, James gets political on ‘Same Old Lie’, a cynical take on the current state of things that only seems feasible in Donald Trump’s America in 2016. The remainder of the album is enjoyable, but not quite as enticing as the initial 3-song intro. The other highlight is the instrumental ‘We Ain’t Getting Any Younger Pt. 1’ which meanders through some disjointed movements before finally toying with Parliament’s ‘One Nation Under a Groove’ refrain on a Wurlitzer organ for the song’s conclusion. At only nine songs, the entire affair seems stunted, and there’s not a great deal of exploration outside the scripted song structures. There is experimentation, but mostly in the form of analog tape loops and other studio tricks. In the end, the album definitely makes my top ten list for 2016, but I know it’s not the best that Mr. James has to offer. For now, it will have to hold me over until MMJ release a follow-up to 2014’s The Waterfall. Patience will pay off in the end, as always.