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Review: Jim James taps orchestral sound on impressive album

Jim James, Teddy Abrams and the Louisville Orchestra, "The Order of Nature" (Decca Gold)

A piccolo and glockenspiel delicately flutter in as the voice of Jim James echoes out. Slowly, the song builds and the breadth of instrumentation becomes clear. You find yourself in a seat at a theater, an orchestra stretching before you.

Woodwinds, percussion and a choir start the opening song before strings join in at the chorus and brass swells. It all builds to one resounding point: "Love universal/The order of nature/Hate has nowhere to grow."

This is Jim James as you've never heard him. In fact, it's likely you've never heard anything quite like this.

A Kentucky-native, James is joined by the Louisville Orchestra and music director-conductor Teddy Abrams for "The Order of Nature," an album that is sonically magnificent and recorded in one take during a live performance in Louisville.

In their symbiotic relationship, James, who performs as both a solo artist and the leader of rock band My Morning Jacket, has given Abrams and his orchestra an edge and lyrical depth. Abrams, meanwhile, has lent James a theatrical element unmatched by anything he could have created on his own in a studio.

Together, they build a story complete with expositions, arching climaxes and grand denouements. Songs roll into one another in such a way that it's not always apparent where one ends and another begins.

Like any good story, there are vicissitudes. Images of bombs, blood and walls stain "Over and Over," while "In Demand" brings a more hopeful tone. "We're gonna lift the curse," a chorus sings out. "By just showing up/We're gonna lift the curse."

At the heart of the album is a message alluded to in the opening track: Humanity is playing with the unnatural, and by embracing hate, we only hurt ourselves. James makes it clear though, over the course of nine tracks, that this is not something we are fated to, but something we can rise above.