Jim White is in his 60s these days but as an explorer of country music’s outer reaches age is certainly no albatross. Where lesser musical genres cast aside those grizzled and battered by time’s tide, in Jim’s world wisdom and well-honed storytelling count for everything.
That said, White has always had plenty of raw material with which to build an engaging point of view. As if frantically pitching for an American remake of Mr Benn, White has at different times been a surfer, a New York taxi driver, a boxer, a model, a comedian and an evangelical Christian preacher. All of which gives the current incarnation, Mr White the alt-country troubadour, plenty to talk about during and, indeed, between songs.
And while inter-song anecdotes tend to be rambling and often very funny, the songs tonight are typically more reflective. ‘Far Beyond The Spoken Word’ (from new album Waffles, Triangle and Jesus) is introduced as a ‘teenage love song’ and is a lovely, dreamy trip into the mind of someone newly besotted. ‘Silver Threads’ is another new one and another beatific highlight.
We’re lucky tonight, White says, that we’re enjoying him with full band, rather than him on his own straining over a congregation of loop pedals. And it is a treat, with backing provided by Georgian folkies Cicada Rhythm who niftily double as support act. Worthy of special comment is Andrea DeMarcus, whose slick double bass is matched by her knack for a harmony vocal. This is especially impressive when one of White’s meandering stories leads him to a song that the band has never played before. They improvise happily and capably.
While the music holds the show together, what sets the performance apart is the storytelling. Jesus impersonators, road rage, relationships, religious failings – many subjects are wittily covered by our host. White could very plausibly resurrect his stand-up comedy career and make a serious success of it. Whatever his next episode all the evidence suggests it will be an interesting ride.
Words: Dan Farmer