REVIEW: Jim James – “Tribute To 2”

Jim james
Tribute To 2
ATO Records

Admittedly it took me a while to listen to this album all the way through. Not because it isn’t immediately pleasing to the ear. It’s style is beautiful and often stripped down while intermittently having large classic sounding productions complete with strings sections. I really dig all that. What was bugging me was how dismal it felt. After I finally made it through the album on the 3rd listen I realized, that’s how you’re supposed to listen to it. From beginning to end it tells a message of hope, not sorrow. You start to see that the lyrics aren’t nearly as bleak as they may seem. Tribute To 2 is an album of cover songs crafted into a story that says “everything isn’t perfect, but we’re going to be ok.” 

The first track and single from the album, “I Guess I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” is a classic from The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds record. This track is one of those “larger productions” I mentioned earlier, and I feel that Jim and company really nailed it. If you told me this was recorded in the 60’s I would have totally believed it. It almost has a “wall of sound” but still very laid back. 

The stand out track for me is the cover of Elvis Presley’s “Crying In The Chapel.” It’s a simple track, acoustic and vocals only, but the focus on Jim’s voice is absolutely breathtaking. Somehow in the production they allowed for his voice to hit the high notes you expect from him, while also adding a low section that isn’t a harmony but just part of his voice. It’s chest rattling on the right speakers. Then there’s the lyrics, “You saw me crying in the chapel, the tears I shed were tears of joy,” I guess everything’s not as bad as it looks. 

The most incredible moment on Tribute To 2 is Jim’s country and western vocals on Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.” If he were to leave rock’n’roll completely tomorrow, move to Nashville and start a second life saving country music I wouldn’t be mad. Actually, I would be excited. Imagine a Jim James, Sturgill Simpson, and Jason Isbell collaboration and/or tour!

Tribute To 2 is low-key and brilliant. It’s inspirational while somehow still grounded. This record isn’t just cool versions of classic songs — it’s a collage of pictures that tell a timely and hopeful story. It’s aware of the present and still looking to the possibilities of the future. 

Watch the video for “I Guess I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” below; listen to Tribute To 2 in it’s entirety on Spotify.