My Morning Jacket has turned cover songs and tribute-album appearances into a cottage industry, playing tunes by everyone from Buddy Holly to the Frogtown Hollow Jubilee Jug Band. So it comes as no surprise that frontman Jim James will drop an album of covers on December 8 called Tribute to 2.
James recently released the lead track from the album, a cover of the Beach Boys’ majestic “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” from their 1966 magnum opus Pet Sounds. The tune was co-written by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher and sung by Wilson. The moody song, with its dark, introspective lyrics, signalled a stark change for the band from its happy blend of Chuck Berry and doo-wop inspired surf-pop. James channels Wilson’s falsetto in such a way that he almost sounds like a lost Wilson brother.
What makes this track unique is the song’s arrangement. In a press release, James explained how he sampled portions of Isaac Hayes’ sprawling 18-minute cover of Glen Campbell’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and sang over it. “I had just written liner notes for a re-release of [Hayes’] Hot Buttered Soul and was lucky enough to get my hands on the multi-track recordings of the album,” James said. “So I ripped apart ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’ and put it back together again as ‘I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times’.”
In doing so, James produced a five-minute mini-symphony containing several different movements. At times, he is backed with the simple drum and bass from Hayes’ slow-jam, spoken-word introduction to the track. In other sections, he has full horns and symphonic arrangements mixed in with the song’s thunderous crescendos and fade outs. Somehow this sonic smash-up works and it sounds a lot like James’ previous experimental solo material. No small feat, he took a 51-year old song about depression and the inevitable passage of time, blended it with 48-year-old samples and created a track that sounds, well, contemporary.
Click here to learn more about James’ new album.