Jim James: Tribute To 2 – Classic bubblegum tunes with a bitter taste
Tribute To Vol.2
Singer / Songwriter
Following on from his 2009 George Harrison covers EP Tribute To, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James is back in the musical dressing-up box for another round with Tribute To 2. This time it’s an entire album of reinterpreted classics from such Hall of Fame luminaries as The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan and Elvis.
This selection of old favourites consists mostly of 1960s bubblegum hits that are imbued with a creeping air of melancholy, which James cracks open as he delivers them in a yearning, aching timbre. There is a silver somnambulance to the album, as if it’s a soundtrack to a series of lucid dreams, a haunting sadness full of gauzy, fuzzy reverb and layered vocals.
The wistful desolation of Brian Wilson’s I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times is shifted from the flute-heavy Pet Sounds orchestration and transformed by James into a spacey Nilsson-meets-Bacharach psych-lounge jam, with trumpet parps and organ vamping. It still retains its simplistic, heart-squeezing honesty but now takes on more of a mantra-like quality, an anthem for a lost age.
Sonny and Cher’s Baby Don’t Go loses its John Barry-esque sleazy swing and is stripped down to a skeletal shape, an ethereal piano-led bar-room ballad, while the choral doo-wop of Elvis Presley’s Crying in the Chapel becomes a ghostly midnight hymn to isolation.
However, as with all covers albums, there are moments of frustrating self-indulgence. James veers off into folk blandness on Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Lucky Man and there is an unnecessary, straightforward country-tinged reading of Dylan’s I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight. But mostly, Tribute To 2 streaks familiar songs of California sunshine with shades of grey, revealing the heartache lurking in the shadows.