Jim White vs. the Packway Handle Band
Take It Like a Man
US: 27 Jan 2015
UK: 26 Jan 2015
Jim White is an eccentric American singer songwriter/guitarist known for his screwball lyrics and delivery. He’s not a nut, but he certainly can be odd in a way that reflects intelligence, humor, gospel traditions, and the lost underground nation from previous decades—and maybe even previous lives. The Packway Handle Band is a bluegrass group from Georgia known for their tight harmonies and spirited performances. This band asked White to produce their new record. He decided to make it a collaboration.
Following the conceit of the “versus” listed in the artists’ category (“Jim White vs. the Packway Handle Band”) title, on Take it Like a Man White and the band alternately offer songs with just one co-written between them (“Corn Pone Refugee”). It’s not always easy to know who wrote which songs here, but it really doesn’t matter. They all share the same exuberant vitality, strangeness, and imaginative look at life, God, the weather, and other people.
White doesn’t hail from a bluegrass heritage, but his Gothic material fits smack dab in the middle of this bastard tradition. This can be easily seen in his spiritual rant “Jim 3:16”, where White declares “a bar is just a church where they serve beer”. He means it. A bar is a place of honest human communion and communication. Packway’s counterpart tune “Gravity Won’t Fail” offers a similar belief in the secular: “Always bet on the universe / And you’ll never get let down.” While what comprises the universe is never delineated or defined, it’s clearly not a religious entity.
Of course, most of the songs by these artists are fun and silly more often than serious. The instrumental back-up reveals the Packways can really pick and create a fast-fast tempo as only bluegrass or techno can. The music can get purposely sloppy to convey the irreverence of the participants to conventionality. That’s even true of morbidly named “Blood on the Fiddle, Blood on the Bow”. This ain’t no bluegrass “Helter Skelter”—re: “I’ve got blisters on my fingers”—but a more hyperbolic plea asking for attention. The music can be off-key and distorted to show it comes from the heart unprocessed, but it’s a heart more concerned with showing off than connecting with others.
As the one co-written track suggests, the music and lyrics here may be serious but then again they may not. This is playful entertainment. So on “Corn Pone Refugee”, the playing goes from that of a straight-ahead diesel-fueled engine to an old freight train wobbling down the tracks. The vocals begin with clean harmonies and turn into less disciplined shouting. The sensible words deteriorate into less rational verbiage. But the participants keep a deadpan expression as if they are not aware of the changes.
The lyrics to “Paranormal Girl”, describe “funny feelings”. This seems to be a good way of relating what the album mostly conveys: a smile and a vague sense of something disturbing. While the individual cut concerns a more supernatural topic, the idea of “funny feelings” serves as a good metaphor for Take It Like a Man‘s contents. Something funny is going on in the universe, and no one is ever really sure why.
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