On Low Country, local songwriter Jeep White constantly bends his voice from song to song, occasionally conjuring a little of that Johnny Cash baritone. But comparisons to Cash end just about there. White's lyrics are more contemplative and sad than Cash's early songs, and they're quicker-paced than the wonderful albums an older Cash made in the '90s with Rick Rubin.
A better comparison might be with country songwriting legend Billy Joe Shaver. Although White's voice is generally higher and less gritty than Shaver's, the upbeat tempos and emotional tones of the songs bring Shaver to mind ahead of any other well-known country singer.
Low Country is White's first solo album, although the West Virginia native has been playing on and off around Charleston since 1987. Engineer Bruce Roberts worked with White and plenty of guest musicians at ARP Studios in West Ashley. The album is straighter than an arrow, an old-time country record with no frills, except for two or three short mandolin and pedal steel solos.
A few songs are given a unique touch with solid piano from Fred Hudson, who also plays drums on much of the album. Local multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaler (of Slow Runner) provides great pedal steel on three songs, and producer Bruce Roberts lays down a consistent bass line on every track.
With such a straightforward tone throughout, it's no surprise that the two standout tracks, "Short Road to Hell" and "Grandpa," are the most direct. Both have driving rhythms that draw you in, but White's lyrics really grab the listener. Neither song gives you time to think — they just tell stories without any hesitation. "Grandpa" also features the best solo on the record: Bob Sachs' mandolin.
White's voice weakens a little bit on a few tracks, most notably "Red Paper Hearts," but the closer "Shotgun" brings it back around, telling a twangy, running-and-gunning Western story. It feels a little like some of Willie Nelson's recent work, with a chorus of voices producing a consistent call-and-response, the only backup singing on the album. The song oozes Texas, with great harmonica from Bob Tobin, and it might remind some listeners of older songs about Western duels in saloons and on red-dirt streets. It might even recall Cash's cover of the classic "Big Iron," but with stronger rhythm.
Although many of White's songs on Low Country come across as sad and melancholic, they have a solid basis in reality, producing an overall good feeling. This is a great first effort from a local country storyteller finally able to put some stories down. (jeepwhite.com)
Jeep White performs on Sat. April 21 at the Aiken Chapter of the CSRA American Ex-Prisoners of War's annual convention.