Mid-way through ‘Here I Am’ – a song looking back at his life as he turns 60 years of age and one of several from his new album Waffles, Triangles & Jesus that he plays here tonight – a huge beatific smile starts to stretch across Jim White’s face. It is the look of a man who likes what he sees in front of him; someone who has now achieved certain levels of serenity and satisfaction in his life.
But this has not always been the case for Jim White. His earlier life and times have been well documented before. The narrative is one that features drugs, depression, destitution, demons and domestic discord. You would also be very hard pressed to invent his CV, given that stints as a pro-surfer, snake handler, a fashion model in Milan and umpteen years spent as a taxi driver in New York will all appear in the list of jobs he has previously done. And as for musician, well he may have been writing songs for years but Jim White didn’t even release his first record – 1999’s Wrong-Eyed Jesus – until he was almost 40.
Since that time Jim White has released a number of studio albums and collaborated on many others with a variety of musicians including his fellow American country artist Johnny Dowd, Texan blues singer Linda Delgado and bluegrass quintet The Packway Handle Band. White has also released a fascinating documentary film about the American South, Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus.
Jim White recalls a previous occasion when he played in Leeds at The New Roscoe, the city’s last genuine Irish pub that sadly closed in 2016. Tonight he is in the recently opened Community Room at the Brudenell Social Club. Alongside him are Andrea DeMarcus (upright bass) and Dave Kirslis (guitar), members of the Athens, Georgia folk-group Cicada Rhythm, who in turn are ably augmented by drummer Colin Agnew. White speaks of them being the best band he has ever played with. He also enthuses about the fantastic sound quality in the Community Room. Tonight’s show affirms the accuracy of both of these assertions.
It is a show that stretches way past the two-hour mark due, in part, to Jim White’s wonderful ability to tell a story. He reflects, at considerable length, upon numerous past life experiences. We get to hear about how as a much younger man he suffered self-induced tinnitus after blasting out ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery at maximum volume over a concentrated period of time; how he once wrote the second saddest country song of all time; his being an unreliable witness to a crime, illustrated by a long rambling tale that involved a Puerto Rican crackhead, a botched burglary, two women called Mercedes and Carolyn, and various members of the New York Police Department; how his then girlfriend left him for the disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein’s brother; and about the time when he first met Johnny Dowd whose first words to White were “yeah…you’re that kid that copies me.”
Listening to Jim White’s elaborate steams-of-consciousness it is very difficult to ascertain where the line is drawn that separates fact from fiction. But if you were of a gambling persuasion then the smart money would surely be on it all being entirely true.
Over the course of these incredible, meandering, often hilarious narratives and 17 songs that span the length and breadth of his entire recording career, Jim White takes us all on a compelling journey through the darker hinterlands of his soul, emerging at a point – when he concludes with the genuinely moving ‘Sweet Bird Of Mystery’, a song written for his older daughter with whom he is now reconciled but which he had tucked away in a suitcase for many, many years – where he has now attained a deep and satisfying contentment.
Photo: Simon Godley