“Mountains of the Moon” is an obscure song, even by the standards of the Grateful Dead who had a habit of turning deep album cuts into concert staples. The group originally recorded it for their third studio album Aoxomoxoa (the name nobody can pronounce). Written by Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter and Phil Lesh, the lyrics resemble a lost medieval ballad: “Cold mountain water/The jade merchant’s daughter/Mountains of the moon/ Bow and bend to me.” One can imagine Tyrion Lannister dancing to it on Game of Thrones.
Cripes, quite how do I put this with sufficient diplomacy?
Some of you may have been drawn to this record by their knowledge of Jim James’ main band My Morning Jacket. Some of you, like me, may be interested based on the strength and range of the titles covered by Jim James. For it is an eclectic selection. Broadway to the Beach Boys, Emerson, Lake and Palmer to Sonny and Cher. And, yes, of course some Dylan. Catnip for covers lovers from the mainman in a bonafide cool hipster band.
Realizing it is almost 15 years since I last bought an album by My Morning Jacket, 2003’s It Still Moves, I wonder whether there has been, um, a change of direction in the intervening years. I somehow assumed they had stuck fast in their Skynyrd/Shakey hybrid. Or maybe Jim James – or “Yim Yames”, as I recall with a shudder he briefly rechristened himself a decade ago – keeps this other side for solo stuff like this. I am uncertain whether these interpretations are weird or just wonky, largely played so straight and so simply as to reveal more his weaknesses than his strengths as a singer. Which is a pity, as he has a fine, if limited voice.
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.
Ten years ago Brandi Carlile released her second album, The Story. Lovingly produced by T-Bone Burnett, The Story is heavy on relationships, heartbreak, and unrealized potential. Songs so beautiful they can float right on past unless you’ve recently fallen in or out of love or struggled with a complex friendship. But if your guard is down, your heart is broken, or your confidence rattled, The Story can be a powerful and cathartic experience. Last month we shared songs from Dolly Parton, Pearl Jam, and Adele, when we teased the latest War Child benefit project in which a hand-picked, all-star cast covers The Story in its entirety. That album, Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of The Story-An Album to Benefit War Child, is released today.
The Grateful Dead – the iconic (nay, legendary) Palo Alto ensemble whose longevity, sheer number of live performances, eclectic and improvisational musical styles, as well as religious fanbase cemented them as one of the most influential and groundbreaking groups of rock and roll history – will be honored this May in an upcoming epic homage titled Day of the Dead.
As one of our own feature writers, Jordan Becker, so elegantly put in his In the Spotlight segment: “The Dead were not only a band; they typified a lifestyle that extended the hippie culture of the 1960s decades after most of the world turned it into a punchline.” Dubbed the “pioneering Godfathers of the jam band world,” their legacy lingers on, and with contributions from an overwhelming number of some of the music industry’s most respected names today, their music will be celebrated.
My Morning Jacket frontman and angel of a singer Jim James has teamed up with Pakistan’s Sachal Ensemble to rework Stevie Wonder‘s “Love in Need of Love Today” into a joyous Eastern hymn. For a man who knows how to yell, James shows restraint in his spot-on Wonder impression, but his voice doesn’t lose any of the song’s emotion. It helps to have Sachal Ensemble at your side, an ensemble that’s famous for their classical reinterpretation of Western music (their Dave Brubeck cover is the best example).