Jim James – Uniform Distortion
Uniform Distortion, the third solo record from My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, opens with the kind of guitar riff that you could imagine going down in history. One of those iconic lead breaks that is bitchin’ enough to inspire a kid to pick up a six-string for the first time.
This opening track, ‘Just A Fool’, ends up being far more introspective and contemplative than its bold intro suggests it might become. But it’s a bit of an outlier in that sense - this record trades largely on big, fun, smart, messy rock songs.
Guitars take centre stage throughout Uniform Distortion, though we probably should have guessed that would be the case given its title. It’s a record packed with classic rock riffs and wildly winding solos that call to mind long nights in smoky garages and satisfied, knowing nods from the rock’n’roll faithful who live for little else.
‘Out Of Time’ devolves quickly into a raucous mess of glorious squealing, squawking guitar solos, the lead work in the soulful ‘No Secrets’ is less noisy, but perhaps even more guitar centric as James lays out a long and meandering Neil Young style solo through to the song’s conclusion.
‘You Get To Rome’ has a killer intro too, unlike its predecessor it keeps the brash tone up throughout.
It’s also the first of a few cases where we hear James quite literally burst into laughter midway through singing a line. This feels like such a powerful fourth-wall-breaker, a unique characteristic that just about every other artist in existence would have buffed out, but James keeps in there for the sake of coming across as natural. Plus, it sounds good!
There’s plenty more of that typical Jim James experimentation that brings a loose, playfulness to proceedings. If it weren’t for those flawless backing vocals you’d think that ‘Yes To Everything’ – another track featuring that contagious laughter – was just a live, off the cuff jam.
The ramshackle nature of the record gives it such a wonderful spirit. James is less interested in perfection as he is in having a good time and making sure we’re enjoying ourselves as well.
But this record offers more than just blazing guitars. The urgent ‘Better Late Than Never’ and the sweet power-pop ‘Over And Over’ are like lost 60s garage-pop nuggets and then it all ends on a moment of extreme introspection.
‘Too Good To Be True’ feels like the hangover after a night of too much fun. A little sorrowful, very gentle, but not completely regretful – after all, we had a lot of fun, didn’t we?
If you think about this record too much, it might come across as self-indulgent. But if you just strap in and following Jim James through every twist and turn, it’s nothing but a rock’n’roll joyride.