Jim White (support from Monica Queen) - Live in Edinburgh
"Don't be alarmed if I sound stoned. I'm not - I'm just American" muses Jim White, just having opened his set with the mysterious Borrowed Wings. He may not have consumed any mary-jane but White's music is one strange trip through the backwaters of the Deep South with an injection of samples, drum loops, clarinets and one of the weirdest recorder tooting solos I will ever hear. But isn't that just the essence of Jim White? Like Howard Finster, the failed minister who went on to create art from junk, White takes the most incongruent elements of music and creates something new, often deeply moving and utterly bizarre.
He's also a great storyteller of the Southern variety - be it through his lyrics or in the in-between song banter which tonight includes Scientology, the trappings of his minor celebrity status and his dry, tongue-in-cheek observations on everyday life - if he ever gets tired of writing music, he's got a set career as a standup comedian. Last time he headlined in Edinburgh, he went for a straight rock-out set in a small club (which burnt down some months later) but this time he seems more intent on making sure that his songs don't get lost in a wash of sound. The drums are present but all the instruments are clearly audible leaving plenty of room for intricate breaks and moody ambiances.
White himself moves very little when playing - obviously prancing around the stage like a hyperactive teenager has never been his thing - but his dour demeanour and languid vocal delivery add to the comedic nature of the proceedings. Like the preacher he once was, he uses his hands to emphasise or explicate his lyrics as he moves between the ridiculous (If Jesus Drove A Motorhome) to the desperately poignant such as Take Me Away which recounts a tale of unanswered prayers and suicide.
Though his debut album (The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted Out Wrong-Eyed Jesus) features prominently with staples like Still Waters and A Perfect Day to Chase Tornados, the bulk of the material comes from his current record Drill a hole... or some unreleased material. Though the band haven't been playing together for too long - something White apologises for when the audience request Corvair which the band don't know yet - they manage to bring White's complex soundscapes to life with relative ease. Refusing to waste time leaving the stage for the encores, he plows away with some more unreleased tracks and finishes the set just him and his guitar singing God Was Drunk When He Made Me. Another rollicking show from one of the most unusual artists in the sprawling alt.country scene.
Check out our interview with Jim White
Opening act: Monica Queen (ex-Thrum) accompanied by Johnny Smillie on the electric guitar. (Website)
Though half the audience had decided to not arrive for the opening act, it was only their loss since Monica Queen has one of those voices that would make even the bus timetable sound profound. Remarkably resembling Emmylou Harris' range and tone, Queen grabs the audience's attention with little trouble. Starting with some quite intimate pieces with just her voice against a lightly distorted guitar, they then use some drum loops and an acoustic guitar for some more upbeat tunes which shine by their quality and depth, reminding us at times of the McGarrigle sisters or Harris' Wrecking Ball album. It's a crying shame that Queen is not getting more coverage nationally as she is a notch above most of the Americana influenced Glasgow bands and deserves to be heard by a wider audience. With an album due out in September, we should hopefully see her headlining some dates at least in Scotland.
Catch the final dates of Jim's tour:
June 23, 2004
June 24, 2004
June 25, 2004
Cuba, Eyre Square
Without full band
June 26, 2004
An Cruiscin Lane, Douglas Street
Without full band