Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
Lately around these parts, there has been a lot of flexing going on outside of closed doors and shuttered storm cellars. A few hours north of here, an F5 category tornado decimated the Iowa town of Parkersburg. It's gotten a lot of national press - as have all the other hundreds of destructive and life-snarling twisters that have spiraled across the country this deadly season. Now, the world's divided into categories of people who look at high and low pressure systems and volatile weather patterns as the cause of these pushy storms and there are those who view them as signs, reminders that we are ants and puppets. We're under some thumb or a series of thumbs, allowed up to run around and make money and get stressed out for extended amounts of time - given the chance to feel liberated from ropes and strings and pestering - before seeing the shadow descending from up above and pinning us to the dirty ground again.
It's all about the reminders and these tornados, hurricanes and floods are knocks across the side of the head, potent wake-up calls. A tornado that can turn hours of work into splinters in as much time as it takes pop a bag of Pop Secret is frighteningly powerful and a different sort of judge and jury - the kind that Athens-based singer-songwriter Jim White seems to respect and fear appropriately. Whether that pissed off funnel of wind and rage is the messenger of this typically charming Mother Nature figure that helps green and grow everything or the messenger of someone sitting on the other side of the pearly gates, with the best seat and view is of little consequence. They're likely all related by blood and prints anyway. White favors them both - the acts of combined forces and the solo acts, distinguished from each other on semantics and personal doubts, not any sort of facts.
White explores Christianity and the intellectual surplus of centuries that only helps to make conclusions into more mazes. It's part of the fun, part of the fascination and all of the complexity if one chooses to think about those things on a regular basis. White, who came to Rock Island with Fiona McBain and drummer Pat Hargon, finds that there's a lot of rolling the dice even if the tables are tilted and the odds are stacked that they're predestined to work out a certain way or another before anything's embarked upon. Luck has it and there's typically a fleeting semblance to spiritual disfavor when things go wrong. It can't help but being blamed for the outburst or dealt with in a manner that looks at their coming forth future clarity through the foggy or shattered windows.
White sings, "The days of our innocence and grace blow by" on his stellar song "Town Called Amen," which showcases all of the many talents that White possesses. He has such a steady hand in his relationship with his voice, his fluttering decorations of sound and the calming tones of guitar ripplings. It's an acknowledgement of gray hairs - fitting that he has such a silvery head of them - and a bed of clover, most of which are just of three leaves. Somewhere in the patch are a number of keepers and opened eyes, patience and time provide one with all that's needed to pick those out of the sea. He is a salt of the earth storyteller, who's written a song about God being drunk when he made him (many usually just blame that affliction on Mom and Dad), a song about a Jesus impersonator swerving in traffic in Florida and a song about the ideal day for chasing tornados, bringing us all full circle. White is mesmerizing in his rummaging thoughts, his ways of looking at his day-to-day exchanges and the ways that they all tie in with the mostly invisible flexing of mystical muscles.
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