Junkie. Pentecostal. Filmmaker. Pusher. Vogue fashion model. Drifter. Professional surfer. Manual laborer. Photographer. Cabbie. Cosmic raconteur. Musician-with-a-serious-asterisk.
Attention, self-styled hobos, bohos, and the like: a fella who goes by the name of Jim White has cornered the market on the restless-soul game. Give it up–your thunder is stolen. By any comparison, yours is the archetypal picket-fence existence, remarkable only for its unremarkableness. Time to pony up for the Volvo–the station wagon with the airbags and child-safety seats, naturally. Be sure to kiss the wife goodbye before you leave. And don’t forget your 2 o’clock with the new clients. You are henceforth a veritable rock of stability.
It takes a certain breed to be Jim White–to wander hell’s half-acre intent on finding that elusive something; to dabble schizophrenically in occupations, moralities, and states of mind so divergent as to belong to different lives; to come out the other end, broken, still yearning, but at peace with his (our) condition. It’s a breed simultaneously cursed and blessed: cursed from an early age by an array of existential crises; blessed with the talent to articulate those crises and the subsequent journey with the flair of a natural-born storyteller. That’s what White is, first and foremost: a storyteller in the grand Southern gothic tradition of Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, and their spiritual offspring, Denis Johnson. Only where their work is grotesque, macabre, fantastic, his is psychedelically so.
No Such Place, White’s sophomore disc, is a collection of whimsical tall tales set to music. It’s not unlike his debut of four years ago, Wrong-Eyed Jesus!, only bigger, darker, and weirder. A look back at 43 years of life-in-Technicolor, the disc is suitably all over the map, at times recalling Tom Waits at his most evocative, Neil Young at his most emotive, and PJ Harvey at her most desperate. But these tags too easily resolve a wonderful mess of an album by a man who’s clearly operating on a wavelength all his own.
Consider the lyrics: “I’m handcuffed to a fence in Mississippi/My girlfriend blows a boozy good-bye kiss/I see flying squirrels and nightmares of stigmata/Then awakening to find my Trans-Am gone”; “God was drunk when he made me, but that’s okay, ’cause I forgive him”; “From baby’s breath to the rattle of death, I seek the love that never fails.” Thus the stage is set for the “hick-hop” to come. That’s the description the singer’s given his brand of–oh, how shall we put this?–electronic-laced, bluegrass-tinged, outer-space country . . . with a hint of R&B thrown in for good measure. Not a sound that translates too well to the printed page (or computer screen), but one that’s so adventurous that a lesser description just wouldn’t do it justice.
The ambitious genre cross-pollination–from the intergalactic-planetary take on Roger Miller’s “King Of The Road” to the haunting “Corvair” to the Lou Reed hiccup that is “10 Miles To Go On A 9 Mile Road–is the work of some unlikely collaborators: trip-hop trio Morcheeba, Sade cofounder Andrew Hale, and electronic guru Q-Burns Abstract Message. How these people got together, let alone how they got together with White, is anybody’s guess. Whatever. Sometimes you just gotta look to the cosmos and give thanks.
Which is just the type of act inspired by No Such Place, a crazy, mixed-up collection befitting a crazy, mixed-up world. The point’s not to ask how it all came together; merely to take it in, admire it in all its fucked-up glory, and give thanks where thanks is due.
released November 16, 2001
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