Jim White has been a Pentecostal churchgoer, a surfer, and a fashion model. Lately, he's mostly been a musician, and the profession suits him well, particularly since it allows him to combine some of those past vocations. White makes music seeped in the Old South of the gothic imagination, all creeping vines and run-down Greyhound stations, but he makes it with an eye trained on the sounds of the future. His albums contain twang aplenty, but it often resides next to canned beats, and for some reason, what could sound posed instead sounds honest.
White's latest, Drill A Hole In That Substrate And Tell Me What You See, doesn't really vary from past work, except in speed. This is a slower, mellower side of the singer-songwriter, and it suits his moody ruminations. Substrate begins on a note of doubt that carries over through the album. On "Static On The Radio," White and Aimee Mann discover how little they know, while Joe Henry's steel-guitar- and horn-drenched production beautifies their mystification. Mann isn't the only guest to stop by. The members of Barenaked Ladies play it straight long enough to immortalize, in waltz form, an elusive object of desire known only as "That Girl From Brownsville Texas." A hope of earthly salvation, she makes White plead with God to give him an out from "back-asswards schemes and romantic disasters."
Chances are it won't work out, but that doesn't steer White away from thoughts of God. On the borderline-funky "If Jesus Drove A Motor Home," he offers a vision of a utopia in which nations vanish thanks to everyone going mobile. Elsewhere, however, the transient life only seems to get him down. "You can't waste the whole damn day loving what you need to cast away," White sings on "Objects In Motion," but the music tells another story. Maybe, in keeping with that Pentecostal past, the world simply isn't White's home. But whether he stays put or keeps moving, as long he finds ways to turn that restlessness into song, he'll always be worth hearing.