"Alt-country" has by now lost its value as an identifying label. Any singer that hangs out south of the Mason-Dixon line and doesn't get played on the radio gets the tag.
Jim White, a Florida-reared songwriter who can't shake such billing, indeed meets those criteria. And White's musical output is arty enough to qualify as alternative. As for the "country" part of the pigeonhole, well, don't come to White's third and latest release, "Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See," looking for tear-in-your-beer tunes. The record's drowsy and trippy mood leaves the impression that White's drink order of choice is a tallboy of cough syrup.
"Static on the Radio," his duet with Aimee Mann and the CD's spooky opening track, counsels: "Dreams are for those who are asleep in bed." This 61/2-minute barbiturate inspires listeners to catch the rest of the disc while under the covers.
White is nothing if not consistent here. Inducing sleepiness with song takes longer than getting folks happy or mad. And on "Drill a Hole," White goes long more than Jerry Rice. "Buzzards of Love" lasts a tick less than seven minutes. The sweet and slow waltz "That Girl From Brownsville, Texas," produced by another fixture of the alt-country bins, Joe Henry, clocks in at just under 61/2 minutes.
Henry also produced "Combing My Hair in a Brand New Style," which finds White at his most urbane. He delivers a rambling beatnik rap in a tinny, megaphonic voice and over a cool jazz arrangement, both reminiscent of Tom Waits. For "Alabama Chrome," White credits Canadian gimmick rockers Barenaked Ladies as co-producers, but the song isn't as silly as that pairing could have engendered. The twangiest guitar leads on the album can be found on the cut.
"Jesus Drove a Motorhome," however, is too cute by a few furlongs. Finding "Jesus" in a pop title usually portends trouble, as would an "Elvis" sighting. White has a better defense than most for such savior-dropping: He grew up in Pensacola, which boasts the highest churches-per-capita ratio of any U.S. city and is occasionally called "the buckle of the Bible Belt." So blame his upbringing for filler rhymes like: "We'd be cool wherever we roam, if Jesus drove a motorhome."
White's ecclesiastical roots show up with more charm on "Borrowed Wings" ("You can't get to heaven on borrowed wings," he drones) and yet another low-energy six-minute cut, "Phone Booth in Heaven." On the latter track, White's melodic whisper sounds a lot like the Palace Brothers. "Bluebird" recalls another sleepy and decidedly southern record, Emmylou Harris's "Red Dirt Girl."
Anybody infatuated with the dreamy ballads of Magnetic Fields circa "69 Songs" should fall for "Objects in Motion." "Objects in motion tend to stay that way," drawls White, as if motion is a disease. One that, judging from the pace of this CD, White is in remission from. The record would best serve as a soundtrack for a day of doing nothing -- no matter your latitude.