In 2000, Jason White released his seminal album, Shades of Gray, which earned him both critical acclaim and commercial success, and went on to influence a generation of Nashville songwriters. Fifteen years and three genre-defying albums later, White is poised to release his newest work, a double-LP set entitled Sundown on Sweeney Bluff.
Raised in Cleveland, Ohio, by a small-town Yankee father and a Louisiana-bred Southern belle mother, White is a man who defies typecasting, a restless artistic spirit who refuses to be pigeonholed. If pressed to describe his music, he calls it “American Hash,” a hodgepodge of the styles spawned in the U.S. that forever changed the world’s listening habits: the blues, country, jazz, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll.
The songs that make up White’s American Hash have been recorded by a fittingly eclectic group of artists: country legends Tim McGraw and Diamond Rio; alternative stylists Swan Dive and Liam Titcomb; soft-rock crooner Russell Hitchcock; string-band icons Old Crow Medicine Show; and pop/rock divas the Muddy Magnolias, to name a few.
As guitarist and lead singer for the Ohio-based band the Janglers, White toured relentlessly through his 20s, learning the joys and heartaches of the road. Inking a deal with Universal Records in 1996, White moved to Nashville to launch his solo career. Since then there have been many deals: with record labels, music publishers, managers, booking agents, publicists, et al. There have been successes and letdowns. But through it all, he has been driven by a love of melody and harmony, joy in the turn of a lyrical phrase, savoring the complexity behind a simple song arrangement, and harboring an unquenchable need for self-expression.
Sundown on Sweeney Bluff
Sundown on Sweeney Bluff marks a new chapter in White’s life and career. After a difficult divorce and the death of his father in 2012, he took a respite from working to care for his ailing mother and settle the family’s affairs. After her death a year later, White found himself alone and wondering what was next.
Inspired by the love and gentle urging of his new wife, Virginia, he began writing again at his fishing cabin on the Buffalo River between Nashville and Memphis. Perched above that lazy river on a spot known in years past as Sweeney Bluff, White tapped into the well of emotions that had built up inside him during the previous rough two years. He also took a good hard look at his life, and got back to his musical roots.
The result is a double album’s worth of honest, heartfelt songs, with another album’s worth planned for release later in the year. On Sundown, one can hear White’s distinctly Yankee take on societal issues, but these songs are dipped in Southern blood. “Mississippi Mud” bemoans the stagnation of American race relations, to the accompaniment of a bluesy Dobro and gospel singers. “Sweet As I’ve Been to You” tugs the heartstrings in classic Muscle Shoals soul style. In “Trouble Moon,” White relates the story of his unlucky streak with unflinching frankness, in quintessentially Southern blues fashion, complete with slide guitar and funky bass. But it’s not all gloom-and-doom, as he breezes through the lilting “Little Brown Sparrow,” an ode to Virginia; and in “Ordinary Day,” White rocks out gleefully, pointing out that while “the TV news was all bad,” that each day in the world is teeming with small miracles.
Co-produced by White and Simon Gugala, Sundown on Sweeney Bluff is a back-road joyride through White’s American Hash. Without the pressure of label execs or outside producers, White and Gugala were free to experiment, take chances and let the grooves fall in place. They built their own studio, called Brick & Bone, and worked on their own terms. “I had nothing to prove with this one,” White says. “I just played and sang what I felt. My only expectation for this record was to make music I loved.” And to make that music, he stretched his abilities as a musician, playing nearly every instrument on every song. “Nashville is full of world-class players,” he explains, “but I wanted to play the parts the way I heard them in my head. Simon was really patient with me as I worked out my ideas. He let me play ’til I got it right, rather than producing and editing everything digitally. So we wound up with a genuine handmade record, not a sanitized, computer-manufactured one like so many you hear these days.”
Live Performance Highlights
Austin City Limits Fest//SxSW//Access to Amsterdam//Key West Songwriters Festival//Music City Roots//CMA Fest//Tin Pan South//The Living Room, The Rodeo Bar, The Lion’s Den, (New York)//Beachland Ballroom, House of Blues (Cleveland)//The Bluebird Café, 3rd and Lindsley, Exit/In, The Basement, Acme Feed & Seed (Nashville)//Red Clay Theatre, Eddie’s Attic (Atlanta)//Workplay Theatre (Birmingham)//The Mint, Hotel Café, Genghis Cohen (Los Angeles)//Freedom Sings U.S. tour 2003-2014
Acoustic Café//The Songwriter Sessions (WPLN Nashville)//Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour//The Sound of Applause (WCPN Cleveland)//WRLT Lightning 100 Nashville//Studio 360 (WNYC New York)//Sirius XM Satellite
Awards & Nominations
BMI Award//Music Row Song of the Year Award (“Red Ragtop”)//BMI Million-Air Award//Hollywood Music in Media Award (nomination)