Misfit’s Jubilee by Jim White – Album Review
By David Schuster
Jim White lists his occupations as professional surfer, comedian, guitarist, fashion model, cab driver, singer-songwriter, boxer and preacher. It reveals far more about the man and his personality than simply being a CV; this is someone with something interesting to say, based on a wealth of gritty experience, and it’s going to be said with a sprinkling of humour. That in a nutshell is Misfit’s Jubilee, his eighth studio album.
There’s a unique feel to this record, engendered through a combination of clever production techniques. Many of White’s vocals sound as though they are sung in the distance through a megaphone, on top of which there’s a valve-style warmth applied to the music overall. Like distressed paintwork, it gives a sense of vintage, of listening to the songs on an old car radio. These effects, combined with the occasional use of ambient speech, such as the shouting of traffic cops or overheard conversations, give an impression of being taken on a road trip across one of the southern states. Not shiny Dallas-Texas, but the parched desert landscapes of Arizona, where the arrow-straight road sweeps you past liminal nearly-ghost towns, worn with years of barely hanging on.
Tracks, such as ‘Wonders Never Cease’ and ‘Sum Of What We’ve Been’ are pure Americana, rooted in the same influences as Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited and Johnny Cash’s last, great album in his lifetime, When the Man Comes Around. The long-term collaboration with drummer Marlon Patton, Geert Hellings on banjo and bass player Nicolas Rombouts make for a tight combination.
However, the singer-songwriter’s past collaborations include musicians as diverse as Morcheeba, Barenaked Ladies and Brian Wilson, and his real flair becomes most apparent when he takes this musical heritage and moulds it into something new. In the way that The Clash merged reggae and dub elements and re-imagined them for the post-punk generation, with a knowing wink, White has evolved country-folk into something far quirkier and given it an edge.
‘Smart Ass Reply’, combines clever, poignant lyrics recalling teenage frustrations with the geek rock celebrations of Weezer and the sparse but original musical approach of the Pixies. This is an album that sparkles with such hidden gems: The Hammond organ on the slightly heavier ‘Fighting My Ghosts Again’ and the hypnotic vocal chant on ‘My Life’s a Stolen Picture’. The latter taking their rhythm from Hellings’ picked banjo line, and the lyrics of which give you a clue that you’re about to make a stop in crazy town, “I’m a monster truck attraction. A roadside religion. My life’s a schizophrenic version of a psychedelic vision”. It’s therefore almost no surprise when you overhear a sasquatch encounter.
By stark contrast, ‘Divided States Of America’ finishes the record powerfully, with White musing, “Somewhere between the words of Washington, of Emma Lazarus and of Jesus Christ, there lies the nation that I pledged allegiance to as a child. The land that I love. So, what happened to that America?”.
Give Misfits Jubilee a listen and allow yourself to be carried along the road less travelled. It will be a journey that lingers in your mind long after the music stops.