Personnel: Jim White (vocals, guitar, banjo, keyboards, percussion); Josh Erwin (vocals, guitar); Tom Baker (vocals, banjo); Michael Paynter (vocals, mandolin, percussion); Andrew Heaton (vocals, fiddle); John Keane, Claire Campbell (vocals); David Van Wyke (cello); Ethan Stevens (trombone, tuba); Kevin Hyde (trombone); Marlon Patton (keyboards, drums, percussion); Zach McCoy (upright bass, electric bass).
Audio Mixer: John Keane.
Audio Remixer: Jim White.
Recording information: Chase park Transduction.
Given the backwoods surrealism and shifting musical textures of most of his work, Jim White is not a guy who often comes off as playful or joyous, but those are two words that easily describe White's collaboration with the Athens, Georgia roots band the Packway Handle Band, 2014's Take It Like a Man. White and the Packway Handle Band are mutual admirers, and when White stepped in to produce an album for the group, he brought along a set of bluegrass-influenced tunes he'd written. The project turned into a co-starring effort, and the meet-up brings out the best in all parties concerned. While tunes like "Not a Song" and "Gravity Won't Fail" could easily sound grim given the downbeat tone of their lyrics, with the Packway Handle Band on hand, the songs have a beer-infused backyard charm that blesses them with a healing humanity, and conversely the rough edges of White's lyrics on "Jim 3:16" and "Paranormal Girlfriend" sand off a bit of the band's good cheer and keep the songs from turning into novelty numbers. The songs are lyrically and melodically straightforward compared to White's best-known work, and while the band's accompaniment is full-bodied, it's also uncluttered and the musicians are limber and can step from the high spirits of "Corn Pone Refugee" to the doomstruck "Sorrow's Shine" with confidence and grace. And if Take It Like a Man doesn't always sound ambitious or self-conscious, that plays to its advantage; White sounds as strong a singer and lyricist as ever, but with a casual tone that suggests a spontaneity that serves him well, and the slightly whacked-out string band approach of the Packway Handle Band is an inspired match for these songs. Take It Like a Man isn't White's best album, but it does give him a chance to take a musical detour, and with the Packway Handle Band at his side, this turns out to be a thoroughly enjoyable side trip that suits him well. ~ Mark Deming