Album Review

Jim White - Drill A Hole In That Substrate And Tell Me What You See

Jim White - Drill A Hole In That Substrate And Tell Me What You See

Jim White's mesmerizing voice and narrative songwriting cast a spell. David Byrne calls White's music "Beautiful, dark and weird stuff." I find the songs here even more compelling than those on White's fine prior records, including the highly regarded Wrong Eyed Jesus. Particularly strong are the songs (roughly half) produced by Joe Henry, who infuses White's backroad southern journeys with a healthy dose of groove plus Henry's omnipresent good taste. The understated soulful vibe provides a warmth and accessibility not seen on White's prior records. The mix emphasizes White's vocals -- beautiful though heartbreaking, fragile yet assured. White's stories of personal failings, secular impulses and the struggle for redemption have a way of reeling you in with their simple truths, such as on "That Girl From Brownsville Texas": "I led a life of lonely drifting trying to rise above the buzzards in my mind...Oh sweet Jesus won't you help me/Because all I'm trying to do/Is plant them seeds of love/With that girl from Brownsville Texas." Meanwhile, Eric Heywood's pedal steel cries and Jay Bellrose's drums swing. The performances here are uniformly strong and make good use of various guests, including Bill Frisell, Oh Susanna, M. Ward, Chocolate Genius, and most notably Aimee Mann, who shares the lead vocals on "Static On The Radio". The best tracks here (those mentioned above, plus "Bluebird" and "Borrowed Wings") evoke a sense of mystery and grace, desperation and resolve. The only misstep is "Alabama Chrome", performed with and produced by the Barenaked Ladies. Its bouncy sound, handclaps and near-excruciating rap break in the middle fall flat, but they'll be worthy of inclusion if they bring this record the larger audience it deserves.