The late autumn of 2001 wasn’t exactly a golden age for anyone. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 had reshaped America’s very psyche. Letters full of anthrax spores turned the simple act of retrieving one’s mail into a dark adventure. And at the end of it all, we lost George Harrison.
Jim James of Louisville’s My Morning Jacket was shaken enough by the news of the Beatle’s late November passing that he took refuge at the Shelbyville farm where his band had recorded their initial albums and cut a half dozen Harrison tunes on his own.
The results didn’t surface officially until yesterday in the form of an EP disc James released under the name Yim Yames with the title Tribute To. It’s a stark, ghostly and ultra solitary affair with James recording his reverb dipped voice onto 8 track reel-to-reels with a few sparse acoustic sounds as accompaniment.
The way James’ wordless vocal refrain reflects the plaintive orchestration of Harrison’s signature meditation My Sweet Lord is a thing of low-fi beauty. James’ treatment of the title tune from Harrison’s landmark 1970 album All Things Must Pass, while only slightly sunnier, employs atmospheric vocals that seem to bounce about as if trapped in an echo chamber with a lone guitar as support.
Two other All Things Must Pass works – a reverential piano/guitar reading of The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll) and an elegiac Behind That Locked Door – complete the disc along with a whispery, one man choir adaptation of Long, Long, Long (originally from the Beatles’ “white album”) and a spidery, neo-Appalachian lament revision of Love You To (from Revolver).
In yesterday’s New York Times, Fernanda Santos outlines the curious circumstances of how the forgotten Harrison tribute finally surfaced not as a proper James/Yames solo venture but as a partial benefit for the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary that received the blessing of the Beatle’s widow, Olivia Harrison.
It’s a touching story that befits equally touching music. All benefits should be so humble and respectful.
All six songs from Tribute To are available for free streaming at www.yimyames.com. Love You To is also being made available on the site as a free legal download.