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Concert Review by Nick Morgan

Jim White
The Jazz Café, Camden Town, London
May 2nd 2011

Jim White’s back in town promoting a new side project album, Sounds of the Americans, the fruit of collaboration with the Juilliard School in New York.  In case you’re wondering, the Juilliard, based at the Lincoln Centre , is pretty much the top of the tree when it comes to performing arts in the USA. 

Jim White

Amongst its numerous alumni it counts a varied and unlikely bunch of well-known names: Steve Reich, Val Kilmer, Barry Manilow, Kevin Spacey, Miles Davis, Steve Guttenburg, Nigel Kennedy and Kelsey Grammer.  Mr White is clearly in the big time.   Co-written with Dan Nettles (aka Kenosha Kid) Sounds of the Americans is an eclectic collection of songs, music and spoken pieces devised as a soundtrack for a play, The Americans, based on the works of writer and actor Sam Shepard.  “I don’t understand why I was asked”, said White, “because he and I have so little in common”.  Nettles provides a distinct jazz feel to some of the pieces; White provides a range of familiar characters and themes drawn from the extensive cast-list of the Southern American Gothic landscape that his songs inhabit. 

Jim is touring with a new band comprising Andrew Small on bass and Geert Hellings on guitar, principally Stratocaster.  White has been producing the new album for Helling’s band, Stanton; Hellings has kindly reciprocated by standing in on a short European ‘tour’ (including, much to my surprise, a support set for Ron Sexsmith at the Barbican).  “He’s better than Eric Clapton”, says White, “but he’s not American so you don’t have to resent him for it”. 

He certainly brings a more lyrical and melodic feel (‘dreamy’ say my notes) to White’s songs, quite a contrast from the Telecaster- wielding Patrick Hargon who has toured with White in recent years.  With the band is White’s drum machine (“the drummer who doesn’t drink”) and his loops pedals, which allow him to create artfully textured pieces.

Jim White

You must have to be patient  working with Jim White.  His live act is as much about his anecdotes (“I’m the Salvador Dali of north-west Florida”), not necessarily linked to the songs he’s about to play, as it is about the music.  Tonight is perfectly balanced, some familiar stories, and some less so. I’m sure I hadn’t ever heard the one about the competing cross-dragging Jesuses in White’s home town of Pensacola, which preceded ‘If Jesus drove a motor home’, while  the LSD-drenched introduction to ‘A perfect day to chase tornadoes’ was pleasingly familiar.  The set was well put together: ‘Rambler’, ‘Keep it meaningful you all’ and ‘Speeding motorcycle’ (shades of Jonathan Richman)  with readings from White’s extensive collection of local newspaper cuttings such as ‘Man finds kitty litter in his Mustang convertible’.   All four songs feature on Sounds of the Americans.

There were a few new unrecorded pieces like the reggae-inspired  ‘State of Grace’ (“Hillbilly meets Rasta to make peace in the world”), and a well-chosen mix from his previous works.  ‘Jailbird’, ‘A town called Amen’, the hauntingly wonderful ‘Wound that never heals’, ‘Still Waters’, ‘Handcuffed to a fence in Mississippi’, ‘Christmas’ (“voted the second saddest alt.country song of all time by Mojo magazine”) and the achingly pretty ‘Bluebird’ were real treats. 

Kate Jim White
It’s a perfect act for a nice crowd on a Monday night at the Jazz Café.  At the end, the musicians (not the drummer) sit on the stage chatting to fans;  White even manages to reminisce with the Photographer about the fate of the pair of jeans he sold her at the Roundhouse a few years ago.  There’s a good memory for you. – Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

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