Summer must be coming early this year. It’s unseasonably hot, even for California, and the 90-degree weather is far more characteristic of, say, July than April. It’s not even May, and I’m already sunburned. If only Punxsutawney Phil would stick around and do an encore shadow-spotting, maybe I’d have some backup on this theory. Yet far more telling than a furry critter, or the actual weather, which is bound to fluctuate anyway, is the new album by Jamie Lidell, titled simply Jim.
One spin of Jim and one is transported to beach parties, barbecues and summer romance, with a whole lot of dancing and hand clapping all around. Where Lidell had previously mastered a hybrid of soul and glitch on his outstanding second album Multiply, Jim plays it straighter and cooler, eschewing the twitchy touch of IDM for organs, pianos and guitars. Lidell set out to make a set of songs that could translate well without big productions and studio trickery, and in doing so, created a blue-eyed soul album with just as much groove as his previous efforts, but far greater accessibility.
On Jim, Lidell sounds far more in tune with the Stax sound of the ’60s and ’70s than anything on his home label, Warp. Considering the path he’s taken from glitch on to glitchy soul, it only makes sense that he complete the evolution and give in to the groove. By letting soul win out over electronics, Lidell has made one hot mamma jamma of an album. From the outset, Lidell wants you to know you’re listening to a celebration, and fittingly begins leadoff track “Another Day” with the chirping of birds and the clapping of hands. Lidell sings “another day, another way for me to open up to you” over gospel-inflected backup singers, making one want to jump right up and clap along, maybe even shake some tambourine. I can only hope that, live, there will be some silk robes to go along with the congregation.
“Wait For Me” bounces along with glee, driven by an upbeat piano that segues into a magnificent chorus that is both Otis Blue and Dusty in Memphis (I told you this thing was hot!). “Out Of My System” has yet another dynamite chorus, in which Lidell’s cry of “I gotta get this out of my system” becomes a foot stomping, howling good time. “All I Wanna Do” takes it down a bit for a sultry lullaby, and a lovely one at that, but it’s the energetic jams with which Lidell truly excels, and with the scratchy plucks of the single “Little Bit of Feelgood,” the English crooner returns to mid-`70s Stevie Wonder material for inspiration (there’s even a harmonica riff). “Figured Me Out” has a similar feel, though its slightly more modern sound recalls the likes of Jamiroquai, who more or less sound like Stevie Wonder anyway.
The raw funk of “Hurricane” is the most furious moment on the album, rocking as much as it grooves, with a good helping of distortion to back up its fat, bassy sound. Its buzzing, swirl of sound is a hurricane in itself, blowing the listener back with its fierce power. “Green Light” could have been a slow jam, had Lidell not added the upbeat beat and bassline, making it sound something a bit like Bill Withers’ “Just The Two of Us.” “Where Do You Go” is short but lively, and “Rope of Sand” closes the album on a slow, somber, even somewhat jazzy note.
I’ve covered every song on Jim in the course of this review, and given that there’s not a bad one in the bunch, it’s hard not to want to highlight each one. And with each song comes that sweet, carefree feeling of summertime. I’ve spent many a summers past with Prince, Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield on regular rotation in my car, but this summer, which may have already begun, it’s all about Jamie Lidell.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.