Album: Jim White

Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See, V2
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The Independent Culture

Not for nothing is Jim White the host of Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus, a forthcoming Arena film about the white-trash underbelly of the Deep South. Because even these days, when the burgeoning Americana music scene has instigated a kind of boom-time for rednecks, faux and real alike, with well-brought-up middle-class singers claiming hillbilly ancestry and trying to sound like inbred Appalachian throwbacks, Jim White's take on the South is as peculiar and distinctive as it comes. As well it might be, given his singular CV, a roll-call of discarded diversions that includes cab-driver, fashion model, pro surfer, film-maker, chef and Pentecostalist snake-handler. If it's Southern Weird you're after, Jim's your man.

Not for nothing is Jim White the host of Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus, a forthcoming Arena film about the white-trash underbelly of the Deep South. Because even these days, when the burgeoning Americana music scene has instigated a kind of boom-time for rednecks, faux and real alike, with well-brought-up middle-class singers claiming hillbilly ancestry and trying to sound like inbred Appalachian throwbacks, Jim White's take on the South is as peculiar and distinctive as it comes. As well it might be, given his singular CV, a roll-call of discarded diversions that includes cab-driver, fashion model, pro surfer, film-maker, chef and Pentecostalist snake-handler. If it's Southern Weird you're after, Jim's your man.

Since his 1997 debut, Wrong-Eyed Jesus, White has crept gradually closer to the mainstream: members of Sade's backing band and Morcheeba were involved in 2001's No Such Place, and this one features contributions from Bill Frisell, Barenaked Ladies, Aimee Mann and Joe Henry, who co-produces the album. The result is a more homogeneous sound than before, a laidback blend of country, funk, gospel, jazz and soul perfectly suited to White's languid, murmured ruminations.

Reflections on travel and religion dominate Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See, often in the same song. "If Jesus Drove a Motor Home" finds White pondering the automotive preferences of "a bona fide motorised saviour" whose habits turn out to be all-too human - "Honkin' horns at the drive-through/ Double-parking at the mall/ Midnight at the waffle house/ Jesus eating eggs with y'all".

Stick White behind a wheel, and it seems he can't help but muse upon the larger scheme of things, fretting over more permanent values as the world outside whips by his window. After a long day "busy killing time/ Counting bullet holes in state-line signs", the road-weary protagonist of "That Girl From Brownsville Texas" sits alone in his motel room, sulking and warning: "God, if you ain't smilin' on me/ Then you ain't no friend of mine."

Elsewhere, "Objects in Motion" offers a Southern take on the story of Ophelia, with the narrator's discovery of a suitcase full of undelivered love-letters floating down a river prompting him to reflections on the impermanence of emotions; shortly afterward, a girl's body floats down, with more love-letters. But prospective purchasers need listen no further than the opening "Static on the Radio", a warm duet with Aimee Mann that brings something of the gossamer command of Tropicalismo to alt.country, as White admits: "Everything I think I know/ Is just static on the radio."

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