It’s understandable that Jim James is viewed exclusively as the chieftain of My Morning Jacket, a performer who is half rock star and half shaman. After all, his stylistically criss-crossing songs, reverb-drenched vocals and often incantatory presence onstage have defined the Louisville band since its inception and make it a prime concert draw throughout the country.
But James has also proved, especially over the past decade, that even the massive sound MMJ establishes in performance isn’t enough to contain his entire musical output. In 2009, he issued a captivating EP of six George Harrison compositions (two Beatles songs and four covers of works from Harrison’s landmark album “All Things Must Pass”). Then in 2012, James turned his attention to the inspirations of folk pioneer Woody Guthrie by teaming with Jay Farrar, Anders Parker and Will Johnson to pen music for unpublished lyrics Guthrie for an album titled “New Multitudes.” James had already followed a less literal path of Guthrie inspiration on the 2009 side project Monster of Folk. That set things up for the similarly structured The New Basement Tapes, an all-star ensemble featuring James, Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, Marcus Mumford and Taylor Goldsmith that constructed new songs out of unissued Bob Dylan lyrics. The group’s album “Lost on the River” surfaced in 2014.
All of these projects seemed to downplay MMJ’s rock ’n’ roll mischief. That’s where two albums made specifically as James solo projects come into play. On 2013’s “Regions of Light and Sound of God” and this fall’s “Eternally Even,” James revved up the electricity. The result wasn’t guitar-saturated mayhem but soul-stirring psychedelia.
“Regions of Light” was a blissed-out meshing of electronica, trip-hop beats and vocals that shifted from plaintive contentment to otherworldly wonder. It was like a cross between Van Morrison and MMJ’s spacier exploits. “Eternally Even” deviates from the one-man-band approach of “Regions of Light,” but not its sound. Guitars are downplayed in favor of subtle, chant-like vocals and layers of low-fi keyboards and percussion. From the opening synthesizer haze and slo-mo groove of “Hide in Plain Sight” to the imploding affirmation of the album-closing title tune to “Eternally Even,” the new record is a spiritually inclined suite of sorts, a mix of whirling musical colors and meditations that are more akin to the 1970s music of Todd Rundgren than My Morning Jacket’s weightier rock experiments.
On Friday night, James brings his non-MMJ music to life on home turf with a performance at the Louisville Palace. Expect the repertoire to sport plenty of tunes from “Eternally Even” and “Regions of Light,” along with a smattering of music from “Monsters of Folk” and “The New Basement Tapes.” At a tour-opening show in Boston two weeks ago, James also paid tribute to the late songwriting giant Leonard Cohen by singing an a cappella version of the latter’s “Bird on a Wire” as an encore.
The Louisville indie pop trio Twin Limb, whose just-released album “Haplo” sports a dreamscape sound very much in line with “Eternally Even,” will both open Friday night’s performance and serve as part of James’s back-up band.
Leonard Cohen tribute
7:30 p.m. Nov. 28 at The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd. (859) 447-8166. Theburlky.com.
The music and poetry of the late, legendary song stylist Leonard Cohen will be celebrated by more than a dozen Lexington musicians Monday at The Burl.
Scheduled to perform are The Northside Sheiks, Derek Spencer, Josh Nolan, Chelsea Nolan, Doc Feldman, Eric Cummins, Eric Bolander, Bryan Minks, Egon Danielson, Brian Combs, Keith Rowland, Kevin Holm-Hudson, Ben Aubrey and more.
There will be no cover charge for the event, but donations will be accepted for Greenpeace to help those protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Standing Rock Native American Reservation in North Dakota.