Top 102 Albums, No. Minus 18 - No Such PlaceNo Such Place - Jim White
In the early 21st Century this was the album that dominated my listening more than anything else and while it has never left my playlist I haven't listened with quite such intensity until these last few days as I prepare to see Mr White play live for the first time.
I have previously written about White as a filmmaker - his documentary, Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus is a trawl through the south of Harry Crews, Flannery O'Connor, Raptures, Snakes and Mr White.
I've been searching for the right word to describe him and I keep coming back to fatalist. There is a richly humorous and life affirming fatalism that permeates these songs. Life may be bad, you may be at an all time low, but hell, it could always be worse, as in the opening song, Handcuffed to a Fence in Mississippi:
"I see the guitar that my cousin played in prison / Floating with the tv in the swimming pool
I'm calling for the owner of the motel / Then noticing the bloodstain on the door
I'm reaching for the shoes under the bushes / Just in time to hear the sirens sing
I'm handcuffed to a fence in Mississippi / Where things is always better than they seem"
The Wound That Never Heals
We know we've got one foot in the weird, old America when the second song turns out to be a tale of a female serial killer who has had a difficult childhood, it seems:
"She runs from devils. She runs from angels
She runs from the ghost of her father and five different uncles
Blinded by their memory, seared by their pain, she'd like to kill 'em all...then kill 'em all again
She don't think much about what she's done or the funny feelings that she feels
No, she don't"
All this is delivered in a voice that is 37% whisper and that seems to be singing over a pulsing electronic beat even when the backing is a skeletal folk. It's somehow like Son House was refracted through Throbbing Gristle and then most of the tracks were wiped. It's a sort of modern primitivism, like ancient recordings found in the Appalachians beside cave drawings of a drum machine.
Here's a version from Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus...
The next song up is the one that most often gets onto my playlists and has me hitting the replay button most often. It even gets a reprise to close the album.
The song is a spiritual, concerning itself with the transmogrification of material objects:
You can her the sands of time blowing through the track..
"Got a Corvair in my yard. It hasn't run in fifteen years
It's a home for the birds now. It's no longer...a car"
The Wrong Kind of Love
After all this Jim thought it was time for a straight up love song, well, straight up with a twist. Save the ice for the bruising afterwards:
"Your love's a tale told by idiots, signifying nothing more than a wise hunger for destruction, for in the temple of your loving, scrawled upon the wall just there behind the portrait of yourself there lies a prayer written in your hand, it says, "Girl, come and destroy me.""
10 Miles To Go On A 9 Mile Road
If love is a journey, it's longer than the road. How do get to the end, well maybe you never will. If you're lucky. "From the splinter in the hand, to the thorn in the heart, to the shotgun to the head, you got no choice but to learn to glean solace from pain or you'll end up cynical or dead."
There is a price on everything, "'less of course you steal it." This is another standout track on an album of stand outs. It is a real song of endurance in the face of whatever life throws at you... "life's nothing if not a blind rambling prayer, you keep your head held high, a'walking and a'talking 'til the power of Love deliver you there"
What is an album without that Xmas No.1? Well Jim's attempt to take on the mirror hatted majesty of Slade is slightly lower key, or perhaps no-key??
"I remember quite clearly, a bad Muzak version of James Taylor's big hit, called "Fire and Rain" was playing as you crouched down and tearfully kissed me, and I thought, "Damn, what good fiction I will mold from this terrible pain." So seldom a door...so seldom a key...so seldom a gift like the gift you gave me."
Bound to Forget
The words on this album are a huge part of what attracts me. They are snapshots in time like short, short stories, although all the time White undercuts any sense of serious meaning. They remain just marks on the emptiness.. fading before they are spoken.
"I tailgate a truck-load of tabula rasa...'til my mind go clearer than the highway west of El Paso. Guess I'm traveling faster than the speed of regret. What I was born knowing I was bound to forget."
God Was Drunk when he Made Me
Tom Waits said "you know there ain't no devil, it's just god when he's drunk". Jim takes this a bit further and right into the nexus where stand-up comedy meets evangelism: "See if it was God who made forgiveness, then before that he musta made sin / And who built the house of brotherly love, then let the Devil come dancing in?"
Here is a live version with the folk mass farce elements of the song amped up...
King of the Road
This album is immersed in the imagery of cars and roads and billboards and so this cover of Roger Miller's hobo claasic fits right in. White's version is a kind of country dub, like something overheard from the motel room next door...
Ghost Town of My Brain
The Specials found their Ghost Town on the streets and in the clubs but Jim finds his in the space between his ears, where memories ceaselessly unwind and Joyce's "cracked looking glass of a servant" has evolved into "the testimony of a fun house mirror that some fool broke apart".
"Seek the misty trail beyond the veil where the world gets torn asunder
Gimme needles in the haystacks, Lord and riddles in the rain...
Cause I like to go out walking in the ghost-town...ghost-town of my brain"
Hey! You Going My Way
or Hitch-hikers guide to the Star System...
"Blank billboards on the highway of life. Counterfeit bills in the neon lights
This stick-shift driven saw-dust dream, show-biz sho' ain't what it seems"
What way is Jim going? Well, tonight he hits Kilkenny but he seems to be always chasing The Love that Never Fails, however little he believes it might be there, "stuck on the corner of "Confused & I Don't Know"" as he is.
The album finishes with a reprise of Corvair, even more ghostly than take one...
Looking forward to seeing flesh on the bones of some of these songs tonight.