JIM WHITE VS THE PACKWAY HANDLE BAND

Jim White v. The Packway Handle Band - Take It Like A Man (Yep Roc Records) by Michael Verity - Of his collaboration with Athens, Georgia’s Packway Handle Band, musical polymath Jim White said he wanted to synthesize their “zany bluegrass sound” with his “long-suffering, implosive-depressive novelist view of the south.” The result is pretty well as White imagined, a set of 11 humorously dark and patently absurd songs that careen from brooding southern gothicism to full-on silliness.

The foolishness comes to the fore right from the first cut, “Smack Dab In A Big Tornado,” as the band tells the unlikely story of a man who “lost his job after 18 years/When a big tornado carried him away.” On the jackrabbit two-step “Corn Pone Refugee,” the band calls for some of that “high-living” and “jubilee,” as they “tug until the need to tug falls away.” It’s a double entendre, of course, but as far as we can tell it’s the single string of a gut-bucket bass they’re talking about.

“This is not a song, this is a cry for help,” they sing on “Not A Song,” one of two or three genuinely inventive tunes that blends White’s cock-eyed poetry with the Packway’s flourishing harmonies. “Jim 3:16,” with it’s notion that “a bar is just a church (that) serves beer,” adroitly mixes the gentle singalong of New Riders Of The Purple Sage with the strange cowboy poetry of, well, New Riders of the Purple Sage. “Paranormal Girlfriend” is another standout, a story of distant preternatural connections that occur as roofs are caving in and boats are capsizing. (Yeah, you really have to hear that one to understand.)

There are a few songs that fall short: “Wordmule Revisited” is a busy mess and their version of “Sinner!.” intended to something loose and rambling, comes off as just sloppy. But, if clever is your bag then it will be wise to bag this disc, something to insert into your collection somewhere between Flatt and Scruggs and Spike Jones. - BY MICHAEL VERITY

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