Most recent album release: A Funny Little Cross to Bear
Lyric of note: 3 A.M. I’m awakened
By a sweet summer rain…
Distant howling of a passing
Southbound coal train.
Was I dreaming or was there someone
Just lying here beside me in this bed?
Am I hearing things? Or in the next room,
Did a long forgotten music box just start playing?
(“Static on the Radio,” from Drill a Hole in the Substrate and Tell Me What You See)
Jim White has an uncanny knack for writing songs that offer stories and characters that combine the sinner with the saint, the material with the spiritual, and pain with joy. His songs are populated by people who are bruised by the world around them but who maintain an almost stubborn connection to some kind of hope. These are songs of innocence and experience all wrapped up in one and offered up in a soulful, sometimes playful, often melancholy, and always interesting package. As with dEUS, I encountered Jim White before growing to love his work when I picked up a used copy of Wrong-Eyed Jesus! (Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted) because it looked interesting. I found it . . . ok, but nothing that really struck home and, while I appreciate this album more after exploring more of his work, Wrong-Eyed Jesus remains my least played Jim White album. In fact, it wasn’t until late 2005 or early 2006 when I heard the song that made me seek out more Jim White music.
Upon hearing “Static on the Radio” on Radio Paradise, my first thought was “this is a perfect song.” I still think that. Of course, this begs the question, what is a perfect song? Can there be such a thing? Not if you are thinking of songs in competition with each other. A perfect song isn’t perfect in comparison to other songs because . . . well, that would just be silly given the range of styles and sheer possibilities of sound inherent in the history and present and future of music. What I mean by a perfect song is that the song is somehow complete in and of itself, that it captures a feeling or a moment with such breathtaking specificity and honesty that the song is replete with itself. Break down replete to its Latin origins and you have “re” (meaning “back or again”) and “plere” (meaning “fill”). So more than meaning simply being sated or full, replete connotes an again-ness to that fullness. A perfect song offers the listener a feeling of regaining an emotional fullness; a recognition of a feeling or mood—perhaps a feeling or mood that the listener has never been able to name or identify but that, upon hearing a perfect song, comes into focus. Whatever else, a perfect song stops you in your tracks and connects you, through another person’s story, back into your own story and then out again. Out into an understanding that, while your story may be unique, the experience of joy, pain, sorrow, fear, hope, and love is shared between us all.
p style=”text-align: left;”>”Static on the Radio:”
Drill a Hole is a deft and layered album. While it starts off with the melancholy “Static on the Radio,” the album also has tracks that make you groove and smile (“Combing my Hair in a Brand New Style”), that are wry and ironic (“The Girl from Brownsville Texas”), and that bring some serious rock sensibilities to Jim White’s trademark Americana lyrics (“Buzzards of Love”). Of his albums, Drill a Hole is probably my favorite, followed by No Such Place as my second favorite and Transnormal Skiperoo as my third. However, as Aquarium Drunkard writes,
Few songwriters have the gift that Jim White has. Channeling the strange and weird side of life into song-stories that are as compelling and moving as they are sometimes disturbing, Jim has helped push the Southern-gothic genre into music and back out into the limelight. (Link)
I would also add that while Jim White paints vivid and specific portraits of people who are bruised and battered and sometimes still grinning despite it all, I guarantee that you will find yourself somewhere in his lyrics and tunes. You may also find, amongst the broken and yearning hearts, amongst the bullets and the lost religion, amongst the rusting cars and zen-like observations, a perfect song.