My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James released the completely self-produced Regions of Light and Sound of God in 2013, a wildly optimistic, even giddy record filled with all manner of song forms, tempos, and production styles. Three years later, he delivers the other side of the coin. Eternally Even couldn’t be more different -- at least musically. It lacks the reckless randomness of its predecessor, and by contrast, it is measured, focused, even subdued in places. James co-produced this set with Blake Mills. Between them, they cover a lot of instruments, but also enlist a fine cast of studio players who include drummers Chris "Daddy" Dave and Brian Reitzell, string master Rob Moose, and vocalist Shungudzo Kuyimba. Drummer Jim Keltner makes a guest appearance, as does New Orleans jazz legend, saxophonist Charlie Gabriel. The music here emerges from spacy psychedelia, jazzy, multi-textured, 21st century soul, and moody nocturnal funk infused with measured indie pop cool. The brooding opener, "Hide in Plain Sight," offers an instrumental intro with a jagged solo guitar and a harmonic, funky bassline. James' lyrics juxtapose the tensions of the times as spiritual optimism meets the grittiness of physical reality. Kuyimba's harmony vocals function as counterweights to James' weary delivery; the drummers maintain a limber groove as spectral synths litter the margins. "Same Old Lie" seemingly follows suit; its lyric, initially, is an indictment of the myths offered by religious leaders and politicians. All three drummers deliver alternate shuffling hip-hop vamps tempered by layers of cinematic strings and synths. But James shifts his words and they become a paean to resistance, a commitment to lived truth. An organ explores Middle Eastern modes as hand drums emerge to cap it. Almost throughout, James offers darkly tinged music using minimal melodies to frame lyrics that refuse to surrender. The emotion in his words -- and his vocals -- almost breaks through on "Here in Spirit." Despite the tune's lithe, shimmering R&B, it has more than a little in common with the Talk Talk of Spirit of Eden.
The two-part "We Ain't Getting' Any Younger" offers a long, proggy instrumental intro that gives way to a funky exhortation to "…forget this ever happened/And let a new world start again/Peace ripped into pieces/We gotta put it back together again." "True Nature" offers a respite from the shadows with a swinging Nelson Riddle-esque horn chart, which gives way to spiky, nocturnal funk. "In the Moment" is a dubby, funky pop tune, with Gabriel's multi-tracked saxophones and a trumpet adding earthy jazz to the drifting strings and synths sonic. The title-track closer is an airy, almost pastoral ballad about emerging from lost love without regret or recrimination. Those seeking the wacky thrills of Regions of Light and Sound of God might be surprised -- or even put off at first -- but closer listening reveals the poignant and provocative Eternally Even as a stronger, deeper album.