I bought his new album, "Where It Hits You" from our local friends at Rough Peel Records (http://www.roughpeel.co.nz/) a few weeks ago after totally failing to pre-order the deluxe version (with extra artwork, lyric sheets and the like) despite several reminders from Jim White’s mailing list.
Happily, the LP came as a double despite only featuring 11 tracks, meaning a maximum of three songs a side. (Less tracks per side, more spacing, better sound quality, combined with a great big thick platter – it’s a great pressing). It also came bundled with a download of the release, which I used to feel really chuffed about receiving with vinyl, but now only feel aggrieved if I don’t get. How things change.
I’ve only today had my first real opportunity to listen to the album uninterrupted and as usual for Jim White (If you could really use the word “usual” about someone who only started making records in their forties and hasn’t been particularly prolific since), it’s a great record.
His well observed, pithy and thoughtful lyrics (his backstory features pre-fame stints as a, “comedian, a fashion model, a boxer, a preacher, a professional surfer, and a New York cab driver” all resulting in some great storytelling) are in full effect.
What’s different here is that the tonal palette seems to more authentically retro/alt-country than on previous records.
As would befit someone previously signed to David Byrne’s Luaka Bop imprint, previous albums (such as 1997’s ‘Wrong Eyed Jesus’, 2001’s (pictured on CD) ‘No Such Place’, 2004’s, (as before) ‘Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See’ and 2007’s ‘Transnormal Skiperoo’) all had a starting ground at gothic Americana but veered off into more avant-garde territory.
Here you’ve got lots of brushed drums, pianos, pedal-steels, banjo, tremelo’d electric guitars, Nashville acoustics and very little electronic backing.
In other reviews of the record that I’ve read, much has been made of White’s wife leaving him for a younger man immediately before recording commenced and the potential effects on lyrics therein. White (who is by his own admission a former drug addict)’s songs have always reflected the seedier side of life, but even the album’s jauntiest moment, ‘State of Grace’ features a line about “Cutting your heart upon barbed wire”. (That’s not even mentioning the name of the album’s closing track).
The main thing that hit me about the record is that White’s usual Sprechgesang delivery seems a lot more about ‘singing’ on ‘Where It Hits You’, than previous efforts. That with the aforementioned instrumentation makes the whole album seem like a much more organic affair.
Highlights for me are the opener, ‘Chase The Dark Away’ with its particularly evocative lyrics and finger picked guitars; the spacious and dark,‘The Wintered Blue Sky’ and the previously mentioned closing duet, ‘Epilogue Of A Marriage’ with it’s heartbreaking refrain that, "Even on the best of days, There’s always hell to pay, Hey hey, hey hey, Ain’t it always that way.”
Now, I’m off to try and find out what the hell has happened to my copy of ‘Searching For The Wrong Eyed Jesus”.