It was just about four years ago that I heard Jim White's debut album Wrong Eyed Jesus. At the time I heard it, it was sort of an unexpected surprise from an artist that I'd heard nothing about previously and his mix of dark folk and ability to tell great stories within his songs had me instantly hooked. Since that time, I've heard a lot more artists in that particular vein of music and while it's taken him quite awhile to complete his follow-up, White still manages to keep himself set apart from other artists with some interesting additions.
One of the main things is that he's not afraid to be a little bit goofy. While other artists like Palace Music and Simon Joyner (at least I would consider them contemporaries) take themselves a little too seriously sometimes, White instead intersperses the more serious songs with tracks like "God Was Drunk When He Made Me." Another thing that helps him stand out is his somewhat non-traditional production on the release. Although there are several tracks that keep the sort of desolate feel that his last disc had, he's also brought in lots of other people to work with on the disc including Paul and Ross Godfrey of Morcheeba, Q-Burns Abstract Message, and Sohichiro Suzuki of Yellow Magic Orchestra.
These high-profile pairings work in varying degrees over the course of the disc, and things actually start out on sort of a cheeseball number (produced by the Morcheeba duo) on "Handcuffed To A Fence In Mississippi." With a poppy beat and some wailing guitars offset by plucked banjos, it sounds like it was carved with the express intent of making the top 40. The redeeming quality (as it is with most songs) are White's lyrical turns. Although the second track "The Wound That Never Heals" is also produced by the same pair, it works a lot better by taking a more subtle approach. With lyrics that sound like something from Nick Caves Murder Ballads, it wouldn't have worked any other way.
From there, the producion changes up on nearly every song, and "Corvair" stands out as probably the masterpiece of the album. It takes a much more haunting route than any other track and the simple instrumentation works amazingly with the metaphoric lyrics. The same track is reprised at the end of the release, and doesn't feel a minute too long. White isn't even afraid to go a more experimental route like on the track "The Wrong Kind Of Love." Although there is a fairly normal song located within the 6 and a half minutes running time, it's filled out with ambient wanderings and spoken-word ramblings that feel just right.
Overall, the 13 track effort is sort of a strange release. Whether it was a conscious decision or not, the songs by the different producers sound quite a bit different next to one another. While the Godfrey and Q-Burns produced tracks tend to be a little bit more overproduced and radio-friendly, the tracks by Suzuki favor a more subtle approach and work much better in my eyes. Those produced by White himself are pretty standard fare for him as well, but still quite interesting because he has such a presence when not buried under too much production. If you liked the first disc, you'll like this one as well, and if you're searching for some eclectic folk-rock stuff with great songs, White is your man.