Jim James is primarily, and justifiably, thought of as the frontman of My Morning Jacket. It’s only fitting, considering he founded the band in 1998 and has been spearheading the popular rock band for seven albums. However, during a brief fallow period for the band, James put out his first solo album, Regions of Light and Sound of God. Evidently, James got a bit of a taste for it, because he’s back with his second solo venture, Eternally Even.
If you were hoping that Eternally Even would be an extension of James’ work in My Morning Jacket, you should adjust your expectations before diving in. This album seems to be scratching an itch that James is unable to with his band. To call it “quiet” may be an overstatement, but it certainly would not be a completely misplaced assessment. It’s a subtle, contemplative work. The opening song, “Hide in Plain Sight,” kicks off with synthesizer sounds and that drone in an almost eerie matter. It sets the table for what you are about to hear. This is not an album to get you pumped up or moving on the dance floor.
This is not inherently a bad thing, although Eternally Even could use a bit more energy or bite to it. While the album is only nine songs in total, James doesn’t give any of them short shrift. Each song is taken to its logical endpoint, and then probably a few seconds beyond that. Long songs aren’t bad, if they have a reason to be long. Eternally Even does not necessarily justify the meandering of most of its tracks.
That is not to say there isn’t quality on the album. James’ voice lends itself to the album’s oft somber tones quite well. On “We Ain’t Getting Any Younger (Part 2)” (Part 1 is an instrumental that exemplifies the album’s “quantity over quality” ethos in miniature), he sounds almost uncannily like Leonard Cohen. Apparently, a Cohen-esque spirit has been residing in James this whole time, and it was one worth exploring.
At first, Eternally Even is a quality listen. There is something interesting to hearing James working in this new paradigm, and the songs are generally good. The problem is that the songs, and the album as a whole, tend to not know when to say when. James would have been served well to bring more concision to the task at hand. It’s not an album that is served well by listening to it in one go, unless maybe you just wanted to lie around not doing anything. It could definitely be a calming presence, but it could also become something altogether akin to a sedative. Eternally Even, while a solid album worth a spin, would have been well-served to have a little more urgency, or at least energy, to it.
For more from Jim James, check out this interview recorded during SXSW 2013 in the player below.