By Mark McCausland
“WHO is Jim White?” That’s usually the first question that gets thrown at me when I excitedly tell people he’s playing in Omagh’s Top of The Town on April 5.
When I try describing the music of Jim White, it’s hard to put him into any one genre, it’s a tough one to explain to someone who’s unfamiliar with him. I get tongue tied.
“Well he’s kind of a weird gothic alternative country singer, tinged with a dark gospel southern swamp Americana folk rock kinda thing… but also none of the above.”
Looking at his Wikipedia, it only confuses the matter more. It lists his professions as a surfer, a boxer, a preacher, a fashion model and a cab driver.
I usually just tell people to go watch the movie Jim made, “Searching For The Wrong Eyed Jesus”, an award winning, surreal road movie which David Byrne of the Talking Heads calls “beautiful, dark and weird stuff!” And if you like that, listen to any one of his six brilliant albums, released over the past 20 or so years.
But in answer to the original question, “Who is Jim White?”… I really don’t know the correct answer to that.
Jim grew up in Pensacola, Florida, enamoured with the sounds of the white gospel music he heard on the Gospel Jubilee television series. He spent his formative years on the outskirts of a deeply Pentecostal community.
A bandsaw accident that resulted in a maimed left hand seemed to end White’s hopes as a musician, but after writing a collection of simple songs on his guitar, a friend convinced him to record a demo, which ultimately made its way to the offices of David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label. After re-recording the songs, White issued his debut, ‘Wrong-Eyed Jesus!’, a collection of atmospheric, oddly spiritual country-folk performances.
“Back then there was maybe twenty of us doing it – Wilco and 16 Horsepower, of course Lucinda and Steve Earle and The Jayhawks. Now, hell, there’s a million lonesome geniuses out there, each one singing their heart out sadder than the next,” commented Jim.
His musical output is diverse and considerable. Six full length records, numerous side projects including the much lauded ‘Sounds of the Americans’, which was the offshoot of a wildly eclectic score Jim wrote for a theatre production of Sam Shepherd’s works.
‘Where It Hits You’ is Jim’s latest album, and his chance to sing his heart out.
He said, “Midway through it my wife left me. Just walked out the door…into the arms of younger man. We have kids, you know? Lord, what a mess.
“I was…well, what’s a word lower than devastated? I was sub-devastated. Many of the songs on this record I wrote for her.
“So what do you do? Music. I’ts a journey you know? A meaningful journey that carries you to a better place.
“That’s what good music does. It’s a ferry that transports you and those you love to somewhere where things make sense.”
“I just can’t sit down. I wish I could, but there’s so far to go. And I somehow, some way, by hook or by crook, I’m gonna get there. And where am I going?.. I guess I’ll know when it hits me. And where it hits me…you know?”
• Jim will be in Omagh for an in-store appearance at Boneyard Records, followed by a gig in Top of The Town on Wednesday, April 5. This will be Jim’s only northern Irish gig on the tour and it is already attracting attention from Jim’s fanbase across the country. It’s advisable to book tickets in advance. Tickets are available from Boneyard Records, Market Street Arcade, Omagh, or by phone: 07842871845