House of Tudor

Without his runway good looks and his New York address, it would be easier to regard Jim White as a genius, but no one said the world was fair. On Wrong-Eyed Jesus, White's 1997 debut for Luaka Bop, the erudite redneck searches for his soul in golden wheat fields, in dry riverbeds, in dank wells, in rumpled bedsheets, and on the open road. He slips along the razor edge created by his Southern Pentecostal upbringing -- somewhere between junk and Revelations. As with Sixteen Horsepower, God cuts a swath through every verse, but unlike those devout souls, White hasn't completely committed. His intellect keeps him asking questions as he howls down rain gutters, shouts through wind tunnels, and croons over threshing machines. Through druggy veils of reality, he looks for angels and saints and comes up with hurricanes and incest. For him redemption is in the search, not in the consummation. White creates worlds of music as only Tom Waits has done, worlds rife with subtle violence and apple-cheeked absolution. (Ralph Carney -- Waits' longtime instrumentalist -- joins White on much of the album.) There is humid weather on Wrong-Eyed Jesus and the scent of peripheral characters that never come to light. Preachers are chased by hounds, girls chew bubble gum and wait for their prince to come, and there seems no end to White's belief in it all. Jim White opens for Morcheeba at Bimbo's 365 Club on Thursday, April 16, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $13; call 474-0365.

With the dissolution of Idiot Flesh, the idiosyncratic folks over at Vaccination Records have had to put their heads together, share their collective eye, and come up with a moneymaking debacle to support the other talented weirdos on their roster. This week the crew rolls out the Vaccination Hootenanny, complete with haystacks, barbecue, and corncob pipes. Charming Hostess and Ebola Soup will play songs by the Art Bears; members of Idiot Flesh, Mumble & Peg, and Giant Ant Farm will perform taiko fire drumming; members of Nine Wood, GAF, and IF will perform punk rock choruses; Eskimo will perform a full set followed by Hee Haw skits; and Rube Waddell, GAF, and IF will present prison work songs and shoveling at the Starry Plough in Berkeley on Thursday, April 16, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $5; call (510) 841-2082.

The lure of country music is in the storytelling. In time, the stories of lost love or a walk down the road become memories shared between old friends. On a rare occasion, the memories are your own even before you crack the cellophane. Such is the case with Wilson Gil & the Willful Sinners. For anyone who hung out in San Francisco in the '80s, Gil is your long-lost musically gifted second cousin who believes all your childhood darlings are worth more than a box of faded snapshots.

He has to believe it -- he was there.
Old-timers might remember Gil as Tony Gil of Sonic Brain Jam, a rock group whose fliers were once plastered on every bus stop from Potrero Hill to Ocean Beach. Things have changed. Gil's voice has aged and taken on a deep-lined determination well-suited to pedal steel, banjo, harmonica, organ, dobro, and the two dozen other instruments that help exorcise his memories of a youth long since past. The songs on the self-titled debut by the Sinners -- a nonperforming group with more than 20 players, including a string quartet and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir -- were written by Gil in 1995, but only released this month on Dog Patch Records. "It took that long to get it right," says Gil. But right it is. Wilson Gil & the Willful Sinners faithfully captures a small moment in time without being trapped there. The first song on the album, Gil's insistent twang-filled opus sung to Greg Foot of the band Short Dogs Grow, details the vibrant scene once found at the Chatterbox (now the Chameleon). "Well, I can still remember my first real show," sings Gil with pride. "Yeah, we opened for Buck Naked don't ya know." Over the course of 3 1/2 flawless, wrenching minutes, Gil sings about everything from the wit and wisdom of the Jackson Saints' Eric Meade ("Rock is my religion; this is how I pray") to the tragedy of the death of Buck himself: "It's going on seven years," wails Gil, "and it seems like barely seven beers." And Gil digs deeper. "Through the Fall" puts to music the San Francisco musician's lament ("Seems like the only thing that's free is the rain"); "18 Miles to Seattle" takes us on a drunken tour through a town where the "guitar player was a junkie, but it didn't show" and Gil stumbled into Sub Pop half-drunk on Bloody Marys and played his first gig wearing nothing but saran wrap; and "Stripped" weaves mournful violin and a delicate first-person narrative into the tragic, speedy babble of a young stripper. Other songs, like "Lying, Whoring, Cheating, Stealing" and "Hell Yes I Lied," explore the more capricious nature of the '80s ("Did you feel like a king with your new nipple ring?" "Well, did you hang out at the bar with Fakir Musifar?") with some good old-fashioned boot-stomping and a lot of swearing ("Goddamn fucking bitch/ I'd like to blow your head clean off and leave you in a ditch"). A gospel choir, a shotgun, and a lot of talented friends -- Jim Campilongo, Stinky Naked, Ed Ivy, and Doug Adams, among others -- give epic scope to Gil's heartfelt remembrances, and even if they aren't your own, you might wish they were. Wilson Gil & the Willful Sinners perform for the first time live at the Paradise Lounge on Saturday, April 18; the Blazers headline and the Four Fathom Bank Robbers and the Rounders open at 9 p.m. Tickets are $8; call 861-6906.

-- Silke Tudor

 
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