Jim James Kicks Off His Acoustic Tour at The Belly Up, Solana Beach

As the packed house enjoyed the sold out tour debut from Jim James, I reckoned this was what it must have been like when a young Neil Young took his acoustic guitar into Toronto’s Massey Hall back in the early 70s. Both artists had experienced larger band success, but chose to step back to the coffeehouse-like setting of solo performance.

In the case of James, he was celebrating the release of Uniform Clarity, a new companion piece to his acclaimed 2018 album Uniform Distortion. The new LP comprises acoustic renditions of the songs originally found on Uniform Distortion along with two new tracks.

For the tour opener, James pulled songs from all parts of his extensive songbook. The excited crowd took a few stanzas to quiet down and join James on his musical journey. “Over and Over” launched the evening, followed quickly by “I’m Amazed” from his days with My Morning Jacket. Other MMJ songs bubbled up through the evening, most notably “Wonderful” and “Bermuda Highway.”

Jim James at The Belly Up, November 1, 2018 (photo by Brad Auerbach)

“The idea for Uniform Clarity came from Uniform Distortion,” says James, “an album of intentional chaos/dirt: literal and figurative distortion of lyrics and sound meant to echo and hopefully shed some light on the twisted times and distortion of the truth in which we now live. Uniform Clarity is meant to illuminate the other side – raw and real, but very clear, much like in the early days of recording where all you could hear was the truth because there were no ways to manipulate recordings in the studio. Working with Shawn Everett, we created a document style recording of these songs- just vocals, guitar and the space itself- no special FX. A crystal clear illustration of the flawed beauty of what a song starts off as or sometimes remains- a thought. a seed. a light from the womb of the universe brought to life down here on earth.”

The track with the most steady recent airplay “Just a Fool” was delivered in good form. James did not phone it in, he pushed his vocal chords to the limit, almost cracking at times. His guitar work throughout the evening was deft.

After 17 songs, James brought out longtime tour partner Dave Givan for some light percussion embellishments. The remaining eight songs were a bit more sonically colorful as a result.

The evening’s penultimate song had James chanting his vowels in “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.).”

Uniform Clarity was recorded with GRAMMY® Award-winning producer/engineer Shawn Everett (Alabama Shakes, The War On Drugs), who mostly let James deliver the songs unadorned.

That was definitely the case when James opened his tour near the ocean in Solana Beach.

(photo by Kim Ratterman)

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.