Songs can have many versions, throughout history people have always covered another person’s tunes, from the Victorian music halls to the bands of today, and sometimes it’s the cover version which ends up being just as appreciated as the original. From Jeff Buckley’s vs. Leonard Cohen’s versions of ‘Hallelujah’ to Jimi Hendrix’s vs Bob Dylan’s version of ‘All Along The Watchtower’, the debate rages on as to the ‘best’ one. Tunes can be interpreted in a zillion different ways, so not content with delivering one albums’ worth of songs, Jim James has now decided to release an album of alternative versions of the songs from recently released album ‘Uniform Distortion’, like a quieter younger sibling to the bold brash older child.

Whereas ‘Uniform Distortion’ was all about the overdrive, levels on all instruments in the red, and guitars which leap out of the speakers, ‘Uniform Clarity’ is the polar opposite. Gone are the electric guitars, pounding drums and huge solos, to be replaced by subtle acoustic guitars and hushed tones. This remarkable transformation really shines on opener ‘Just A Fool’ which has morphed from a distorted rock anthem to a country-tinged ballad, with James’ emotive vocals towering above his acoustic delicate guitar pickings. The conversion continues with ‘You Get To Rome’ sounding like a barn stomper, rather than the electrified thunderous version first heard on ‘Uniform Distortion’, yet there’s still the occasional rowdy vocal on the chorus for added ferocity, proof that acoustic guitars can provide just as much of an effective emotional punch.

‘Out Of Time’ has Jim James’ animated vocal style shining through on this sing-a-long ballad of a tune, like the last one played at the end of the night in a boozy bar somewhere in the city, whereas ‘No Secrets’ shows how powerful and evolved a song can become with just two instruments used effectively, with a variety of guitar strums, picking and plucking in abundance, and James’ voice once again soaring to the high notes. One of the best tracks on here, ‘No Use Waiting’ has rock n’ roll cruising through its delicate veins, with its yearning vocals and acoustics sounding like the ballad of a rock troubadour passing through town, resembling a lost Stones ballad with the ghost of Gram joining in, whereas ‘Better Late Than Never’ is reminiscent of Dylan at his acoustic best until James screams the last note for all he’s worth, bringing back the rock element to the folk led tune.

Sometimes acoustic, unplugged, or stripped back arrangements can make for a startling and rewarding experience – think of PJ Harvey’s ‘Rid Of Me’ demos, Lee Ranaldo’s ‘Acoustic Dust’ Ryan Adam’s ‘Ashes & Fire’, ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ and those Unplugged Live gigs from R.E.M and Nirvana. If the songs are good enough, there’s always ways to twist the formula and resurrect them into a new musical life form. Jim James has always managed to capture great melodies wrapped up in his unique take on Americana, blended with hefty rock n roll swagger, and although it might seem like a bizarre move, releasing an album of songs you’ve already released, some might even see it as pushing fans’ loyalties to the extreme, but when it’s done as well as this, it’s a worthy addition to any record collection – proof that acoustic doesn’t mean lightweight. ‘Uniform Clarity’ is a great companion to its electric predecessor – an album of brilliant acoustic adventures.

Release Date 5th October 2018  (ATO Records)

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From the early days of creating handmade zines, in a DIY paper and glue style, interviewing bands around town, then pestering Piccadilly Records to sell them, to writing for various independent mags such as Chimp and Ablaze, writing about the music I love is still a great passion. After testing the music industry waters in London with stints at various labels, being back in my hometown again, writing about this city’s vibrant music scene is as exciting as ever. All time favourite bands include Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, Patti Smith although anything from electro to folk via blues and pysch rock will also do nicely too. A great album, is simply a great album, regardless of whatever musical cage you put it in.