Jim White

By Dick Irby

He has been a professional surfer in Hawaii, a successful fashion model in Europe, and a big apple cab driver, but Jim White insists he is not a professional musician.

If he isn't, he did a great job of faking it at the Twice Told coffee house on Sunday, April 5.

It is true that White had never performed in public before a primitively recorded tape won him contract with David Byrne's Luaka Bop label, but more than a year on the road has turned White into an impressive performer.

Since it was one of the first times he had performed without his band, White called the Louisville show "an experiment." Nonetheless, he was relaxed and confident, his guitar skills quite sufficient to get his haunting songs across.

Saying he was tired of songs from his debut album ("The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted Wrong-eyed Jesus"), a small but lucky audience was treated to a long set of mostly new material.

"Handcuffed to a Fence in Mississippi" was typical: the tragically funny story of a man left stranded by a girlfriend, a woman who adds insult to injury by fleeing in his beloved Trans Am. Still, the ever-optimistic victim speculates that things "are not as bad as they seem."

White's songs are about sin and redemption, the thin line between dreams and reality, and the influence of good angels and bad. They spring from his upbringing in a Pentecostal home in Pensacola, Florida and are unlike anything I have ever heard.

Here's hoping his second album takes the stripped-down approach of the April performance.

White's debut was my "Album of the Year" choice for 1997. It was heavily produced, however; something not needed for songs this strong and unusual.

White has been busy touring the U.S. and Europe with David Byrne, but he seems to like the Twice Told. The April show was this third stop there in recent months.

If you are a fan of singer-songwriter-poet-storytellers and get word that he's coming back. Jim White is a must-see.