Mention Jim White and it’s odds on that his spectacular debut album, ‘The Mysterious Tale Of How I Shouted Wrong Eyed Jesus’, will be the disc which everyone raves about. Fair enough, it is a classic album, but I’m here to make the case for its follow-up, ‘No Such Place’, released in 2001. Wrong Eyed Jesus was southern gothic, Flannery O’Connor with a banjo on her knee. ‘No Such Place’ is not too far removed from that but, at times, it’s more hard-boiled, like a Jim Thompson pulp thriller brought to life by David Lynch.
Much of ‘Wrong Eyed Jesus’’ attraction was the wayward momentum of the songs. Its whiffs of Appalachia, mixed with a Pentecostalist fervour, were like tumbleweed, rolling along in the wind. There was an off-kilter sense to the album and this is maintained on ‘No Such Place’. White again acts as a will of the wisp while taking in all sorts of odd and deviant behaviour but his musical palette is expanded. There is trip-hop and Dr. John like voodoo in the grooves while a couple of the songs actually swing, leading to the album having a much more robust presence than its predecessor does. Several songs do cleave to the blueprint of ‘Wrong Eyed Jesus’. ‘Corvair’ is the most fragile of the bunch with bustles of whispering effects buzzing like insects behind White’s plaintive voice and Andrew Hale’s harmonium. It segues into the crepuscular creep of ‘The Wrong Kind Of Love’ – a lonesome banjo beckons you into the song as a disembodied narrator intones, “Nothing prettier than a pretty girl digging a heart-shaped hole in the ground.” This refrain is repeated several times as White whispers over an alien version of cocktail lounge music – kind of like Tom Waits meets Martin Denny on Mars. As for the subject matter, it’s opaque, but White kind of gives you the impression that this pretty girl is forbidden fruit and one wonders if there’s a whiff of incest involved.
‘Christmas Day’ arrives with a splutter of bus engine sounds as traditional sleigh bells faintly ring in the background, the protagonist stranded in a Greyhound station on the titular festive date. There’s a sense of slush, not snow, as he recalls a saviour of sorts who maybe, actually, quite unsavoury. ‘Hey! You Going My Way???’ and ‘Ghost-town Of My Brain’ are perhaps the closest White cleaves to the template of the previous album and both are the equal of a song such as ‘A Perfect Day to Chase Tornados’. However, it’s another song on ‘Wrong Eyed Jesus’, namely, ‘When Jesus Get’s A Brand New Name’, which sets White up for several songs here which see him move on from the Zen-like wayward ballads which populated that disc. Enlisting Morcheeba’s Paul Godfrey to play and produce several songs, White anticipates the likes of Lil Nas X with the banjo and beat breaks of ‘Handcuffed To A Fence In Mississippi’. It’s needless to say that White does this with much more élan and, yes, menace, than any current practitioners of trip-hop country. ‘The Wound That Never Heals’ is a true-crime podcast in miniature, introducing a fearful femme fatale who is truly a black widow and its delivered with a delicious dark vamp full of southern soul and fearful Gospel voices. ‘10 Miles To Go On A 9 Mile Road’ finds White and Godfrey pumping up the volume on a song which could be a dance floor hit (especially if you liked dancing to The Gang Of Four). There’s a tremendous pun of sorts towards the end when White sings of a chum called Phillip who works in a petrol station and is fated to eternally hear his customers ask Phillip for a fill-up. Meanwhile, ‘God Was Drunk When He Made Me’, is just great fun and could have been plucked from a Fugs album.
I’d argue the case that ‘No Such Place’ is as worthy of being considered a classic album as its predecessor, a notion which places White in a fairly unique category. I’ll refrain from suggesting that his third album, ‘Drill A Hole In That Substrate And Tell Me What You See’, is his third classic in a row however, I would suggest that having listened to ‘No Such Place’ (as you are bound to having read this far) you then spin its follow up and marvel at its wonders. In fact, it might have been more appropriate to have this article appear in a new series – Classic Americana Trilogies. Meanwhile, White has continued to release idiosyncratic (and hugely enjoyable) albums while his ongoing thoughts and writings on his Facebook page are highly recommended.