The captivating frontman of My Morning Jacket teamed up with Abrams and the National Symphony Orchestra to play a few selections from the upcoming album, alongside a few other original pieces.
Sixty years on, there continues to be no other festival that promises unity and unforgettable moments as well as Newport Folk Festival does.
Over his eighteen years as the frontman of My Morning Jacket, Jim James has seen the group transform and grow over time from the weirdo folk music of The Tennessee Fire to become one of the biggest bands in indie rock today. While it may have taken the group a few albums to fully get there, their success isn’t surprising, as the band’s mix of Americana, psychedelia, and jam rock give them a unique sound that makes them stand out amongst the crowded field of their peers. But rather than simply resting on the success of his band, James has chosen to branch out with a solo career as well. He released his first solo album, Regions of Light and Sound of God, in 2013, and though an excellent album in its own right it could easily have been simply an aside in his career, getting something out of his system. Yet after the band’s massive success last year with The Waterfall, James followed up with a second solo effort, Eternally Even, this year.
A swelteringly hot summer evening couldn’t stop the rock on Sunday night at Merriweather Post Pavilion, where My Morning Jacket and Jason Isbell came to share material from their recent albums and more.
A lauded guitarist and songwriter, Isbell released his fifth record, Something More Than Free, just over a week ago. The album has already broken expectations by reaching number one on not just the country Billboard charts, but on the rock, indie, and folk charts as well. At the core of his 11-song opening set were five tracks from that album, along with several each from the previous two releases, Southeastern and Here We Rest. Longtime fans even got some service in “Decoration Day,” the title track of one the Drive-By Truckers – a band Isbell famously did some time in – most memorable albums.
Isbell’s songs are narratives; each one feeling like it has a story to tell, something which could easily be lost to an opening act in a venue the size of Merriweather where thousands of people are there only to see the main act (especially a quiet country artist opening for a rock band known for their much louder performances). But Isbell and his band the 400 Unit managed to draw the attention of that crowd surprisingly well, and by the end of his set he’d surely made more than a few new fans.
Day two of this year's Newport Folk Fesival left behind the weather miseries of the day before. It dawned clear, bright and warm and made the wet and cold endurance test of the previous day feel like another lifetime.
Kicking the day off at the Harbor tent stage, Sarah Jarosz’s soft voice coaxed early visitors and long time devotees alike to hush first and listen second. She alternated between banjo, acoustic guitar and octave mandolin and was accompanied by a cellist and a violinist. Her selections alternated from her own creations, including cuts from the new album, to covers of artists like Tim O’Brien and Joanna Newsome. She ended her set with a fabulous cover of Tom Waits’ “Come Up to the House,” asking everyone to join in.
Shovels & Rope, a husband/wife team, Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst from South Carolina, turned the volume up in the middle of the day. Cary Ann wore a wonderful gingham blue dress, but said she hadn’t counted on the wind. “If it blows up, don’t take pictures.” she asked the audience, “It’s not that kind of show!” The couple frequently traded instruments and rapid-fire lyrics to create a raucous sound that got the crowd in the Quad tent to jump up and dance. “Hail Hail” rang out with distortion and bass, a perfect foot-stomper for the crowd.
10. Jim James - Regions of Light and Sound of God
If Erykah Badu moved to a cabin in the wilderness to chop wood and distill spirits while somehow growing a beard in the process, this is the psychedelic folk R&B record she would record when she came back to the grid. And that is absolutely a compliment to Jim James. Hell, that’s a compliment to anybody.
9. Chelsea Light Moving - Chelsea Light Moving
Chelsea Light Moving accomplish many objectives on their eponymous debut. One listen (or many) makes it obvious that their intention is to appear, to disappear, to punish, to reward, to compel, to deny, to uplift, to dishearten, and to engage. Simultaneously. At high volume. But mostly they came to rock. And to help you get some of the smaller items out of your place. So if you have an end table that needs to be moved, or perhaps a bookshelf or an ottoman you’re not into anymore... Well, you know who to call.
8. Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience
Somebody likes old soul records as much as I do. And that somebody isn’t content to just listen to them and remember when. No, that somebody decided to make his own classic soul record. While some were disappointed that The 20/20 Experience wasn’t a continuation of the sounds Justin Timberlake explored to great ends with Timbaland on FutureSex/LoveSounds, my ears found this blend of classic and neo-soul refreshing and inspiring. I cannot wait to hear volume 2...
Last week space wizard Jim James came down from the outer reaches of the Zebulon star system for a while to pay a visit to the good people of Washington, DC. As such visits from purveyors of magic can often go, it was a little weird, a little wonderful, at times a little bit frustrating, but in the end it was a cosmic, creative ride through one man’s tiny little corner of the cosmos.
Revered as one of the premier vocalists of his generation - scratch that - ANY generation, James is a frighteningly fearless musician who has driven the My Morning Jacket train to impossible heights with his savagely golden voice, seemingly endless enthusiasm, and unabashed love for what he does. It’s no exaggeration to say that MMJ is one of the best, if not the best, live bands performing today, so when James released his solo album Regions of Light and Sound of God earlier this year there was just as much cause for rejoicing as there was for trepidation. One part, no matter how integral, of a larger whole has historically rarely lived up to the wattage of the larger entity, and it was feared this would be no exception. As such, it’s always best to take these things with a grain of salt, to consider them more a public experiment rather than some standalone masterpiece, and in that context, the album, and the performance of it, were both wildly successful.
Al Spx of Cold Specks being FUCKING AMAZING, like she do“Doom Soul” purveyors Cold Specks kicked the evening off with an opening set that was part soul comminuting beauty, part morphine-esque jazz, and a little bit of hangover for good measure. The last time lead singer Al Spx and crew came through town, the experience was almost perfectly revelatory, so to see a slightly looser, but no less intense Spx on stage explaining that her enormous “security cape” was usually accompanied by “confidence wine too, but I’m really hungover” -- it was Jim James’ birthday week last week -- served to further humanize a set full of slow burning songs off her debut album I Predict A Graceful Expulsion. From the very first note of the set, Cold Specks caused audience members to dig deep within themselves to consider who they were, and what it all really means.
And then the wormhole opened.
Beginning in 1963 several bands began touring under the Preservation Hall Jazz Band name with the intention of spreading New Orleans jazz around the country. Today PHJB has been winnowed down to one group, which has kept roughly the same 14-member line up since 2009. Many members had relatives in earlier incarnations of the band; for example, sousaphone player Ben Jaffe (also the group's current creative director) is the son of the band's previous director, tuba player Allan Jaffe.
When it came time to plan a 50th anniversary tribute concert for the band, it was understood that the show wouldn’t take place at Preservation Hall; the historic New Orleans venue is notoriously small, rarely charges more than $15 for a show, and – perhaps most detrimental to a Mardi Gras-style celebration – doesn’t serve drinks. Many were surprised when they learned the tribute show wouldn’t even take place in New Orleans but rather 1,300 miles northeast at Carnegie Hall. But holding the event in New York made sense; PHJB were on tour when Hurricane Katrina hit and every member of the band lost their homes. Since they couldn’t get back to the Big Easy, they convened in the Big Apple, formulating a plan to continue touring and enlisting fellow musicians to help raise money to help their damaged city. New York sheltered them when their hometown could not.
So PHJB returned the favor, staging a massive Bourbon Street style party in New York on January 7, 2012, where they were joined by a wonderfully varied and universally skilled group of fellow musicians from other New Orleans legends to relatively unknown indie rockers. The highlights of that marvelous evening of music have been compiled on St. Peter and 57th Street (a nod to both Carnegie and Preservation Hall’s addresses). While it’s always hard to capture the excitement and spontaneity of live New Orleans jazz, the album presents a fantastic overview of what the rotating musicians of the PHJB have been doing so well for half a century.
Sometimes it's rocks. Sometimes it's weird. Sometimes it is deeply silly. Say whatever you like about My Morning Jacket's music, there is no way around the fact that Jim James' voice is a force of nature. Ferocious when he wants to be, gorgeous more often than not, when James opens his mouth to sing you are forced to listen up, even if the song itself isn't that great. Fortunately this song sort of is that great.
This track from their new album Circuital shows off the softer, more contemplative (and I think better) side of My Morning Jacket by keeping it simple and just playing to the strenth of Jame's voice. It's an island in the middle of a somewhat uneven ocean of an album, but it makes the journey to this track very much worth it.
My Morning Jacket - "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)