Published Feb 21, 2012There were few other songwriters comparable to Jim White when his first album, Wrong-Eyed Jesus, was released in 1997. Bearing a novelistic sense of detail and musical eclecticism, his songs presented a vision of the American South far richer and, at times, more disturbing than any musician working in the field of country music had captured before. He became a mercurial figure from then on, releasing further unclassifiable albums at regular intervals. However, Where It Hits You comes after a five-year hiatus, during which the Athens, GA resident's marriage fell apart and he nearly became destitute. That pall lingers over the entire album, starting with moody opener "Chase the Dark Away" and the whispered, ennui-laced "Sunday's Refrain." The picture that White quickly paints is of a man at loose ends, yet still able to describe his situation in highly engaging terms. The large ensemble, including members of Ollabelle, Shak Nasti and the Heap, provide suitably sympathetic backing, somewhere between hazy, On The Beach-era Neil Young and the recent jazz-inflected work of Joe Henry. White's distinct sense of humour isn't totally absent though, as evidenced by the bouncy "Here We Go!," but as the album begins to wind down, with the haunting "Epilogue to a Marriage," it's clear that White's bravery in baring his soul has resulted in a quiet masterpiece.
You've described a pretty hellish period leading up to making this record.
Yeah, I'd left my previous label [Luaka Bop] and decided to use my savings on doing a new album on my own, hoping I could lean on my wife, who I'd helped over the years. Then she announced she was leaving and I had to drop everything for six months and raise money so I wouldn't lose my house. I was really afraid that I was going to end up homeless.
The song "My Brother's Keeper" sounds like it could also have been a short story. Did you ever consider that?
No, but the way I do things is almost the reverse of what's logical. I've always used the analogy of the way most people would build a tree would be from the roots up. Instead, I would run around the world gathering as many pretty leaves as I could and then think of how I could make them float in the air. The way I work is very labour-intensive. (Yep Roc)