Jim James is no stranger to covering George Harrison songs. One of his first true solo endeavors, back when he was still going by Yim Yames outside of My Morning Jacket, was the Tribute To EP. Featuring James’ interpretation of six Harrison songs, from both the Beatles and his own solo career, the EP was released in 2009 but recorded in 2001 only days after Harrison’s death. (Hearing grain-silo-era James sing the All Things Must Pass cut “Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)” is still pretty mesmerizing.) And now, James has taken on another song by Harrison.
Today, James shared a video of him covering the Beatles’ song “The Inner Light.” Released as the B-side to “Lady Madonna,” it’s one of Harrison’s Indian-inspired compositions, dominated by the sounds of the sarod. James, like he has before, took one of Harrison’s spiritual, transcendental songs and brought it into his own wheelhouse, transposing it to banjo and performing it so that each lyric lands — less meditation and more message-in-a-time-of-need. Naturally, he’s looking back to that music and finding messages that are pretty pertinent to the situation today.
It’s no coincidence that James took on the song now — it’s part of a fundraising effort by the Material World Foundation, which Harrison founded back in the early ’70s. Amidst the current coronavirus pandemic, the Material World Foundation is donating $500,000 to the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund, Save the Children, and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). And James’ cover is part of a social media campaign through which the foundation has pledged to donate up to another $100,000. You can find the details here, and you can check out both James’ cover and the Beatles’ original below.