John Paul White – Tickets – Dante’s – Portland, OR – January 14th, 2017

John Paul White

True West Presents at Dante's:

John Paul White

The Kernal

Saturday, January 14th, 2017

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm


Portland, OR


This event is 21 and over

John Paul White
John Paul White
Beulah. It's a small, complicated word with a tangle of
It's the title of John Paul White's new album, his first in
nearly a decade, a remarkably and assuredly diverse
collection spanning plaintive folk balladry, swampy
southern rock, lonesome campfire songs, and dark acoustic pop. Gothic
and ambitious, with a rustic, lived-in sound, it's a meditation on love
curdling into its opposite, on recrimination defining relationships, on
hope finally filtering through doubt.
Beulah is also a White family nickname. "It's a term of endearment
around our house," White explains, "like you would call someone
'Honey.' My dad used to call my little sister Beulah, and I call my
daughter Beulah. It's something I've always been around."
Beulah is also something much loftier. For the poet and painter William
Blake, Beulah was a place deep in the collective spiritual unconscious.
"I won't pretend to be the smartest guy in the world," says White, "but I
dig a lot of what he's written. Beulah was a place you could go in your
dreams. You could go there in meditation, to relax and heal and center yourself. It wasn't a place you could stay, but you came back to the world in a better state."
And perhaps the music on this album originated in that "pleasant lovely Shadow where no
dispute can come." According to White, the songs came to him unbidden—and not entirely
welcome. "When these songs started popping into my head, I had been home for a while and I
was perfectly happy. I wasn't looking for songs. I didn't know whether any would pop back in
my head again, and I was honestly okay with that. I'm a very happy father and husband, and I
love where I live. I love working with artists for a label that I think is doing good work."
Far from the grind and glamour of Nashville—where he worked for years as a working
songwriter before stepping into the spotlight himself—White settled in his hometown of Muscle
Shoals, Alabama, a wellspring of gritty Southern rock and soul since the 1960s. Together with
Alabama Shakes keyboard player Ben Tanner and Shoals native Will Trapp, he founded and runs
Single Lock Records, a local indie label that has released records by some of the Yellowhammer
State's finest, including Dylan LeBlanc, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, and legendary songwriter
and keyboard player Donnie Fritts. The label is based in a small ranch house a stone's throw
from White's own home, which would come in handy when those songs started invading his
"Honestly, I tried to avoid them, but then I realized the only way I was going to get rid of them
was if I wrote them down. I got my phone out and I'd sing these little bits of melody, then put it
away and move on. But eventually I got to a place where it was a roar in my head, and that
pissed me off." Due to his experiences as a gun-for-hire in Nashville, White was reluctant to
romanticize the creative process, to turn it into a spiritual pursuit. "Then one day I told my wife I
think I'm going to go write a song. She was as surprised as I was. I went and wrote probably
eight songs in three days. It was like turning on a faucet."
Most artists would kill for such a downpour, but White was wary of the consequences. He knew
that writing songs would lead to recording them, which would result in releasing them, and that
means touring and leaving home for weeks at a time. "As soon as I write a song, I start thinking
what other people might think of it. I've talked to friends about this: What is it about us that
makes us do that? Why can't I just sit on my back porch and sing these songs out into the ether?
I don't have an answer for it yet, but I think it's just part of who I am. I need that reaction. I need
to feel like I'm moving someone in a good way or in a bad way. I need to feel like there's a
White threw himself into the project, no longer the reluctant songwriter but a craftsman
determined to make the best album possible—to do these songs justice. He cut several songs at
the renowned FAME Studios in his hometown, where Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, the
Allmans, the Osmonds, Bobbie Gentry, Arthur Conley, and Clarence Carter recorded some of
their most popular hits.
One product of those sessions is "What's So," which introduces itself by way of a fire-andbrimstone
riff, as heavy as a guilty conscience—the kind of riff you wouldn't be surprised to
hear on a Sabbath album. But White's vocals are gritty and soulful, a product of the Shoals,
almost preacherly as he sings about earthly and eternal damnation: "Sell your damn soul or get right with the man, keep treading water as long as you can," he exhorts the listener. "But before
you do, you must understand that you don't get above your raisin'." It's the heaviest moment on
the record, perhaps the darkest in White's career.
At the other end of the spectrum is "The Martyr," one of the catchiest tunes White has ever
penned. The spryness of the melody imagines Elliott Smith wandering the banks of the
Tennessee River, yet the song is shot through with a pervasive melancholy as White wrestles
with his own demons. "Keep falling on your sword, sink down a little more," he sings over a
dexterous acoustic guitar theme. This is not, however, a song about some unnamed person, but
rather a pained self-diagnosis: "These are the wounds that I will not let heal, the ones that I
deserve and seem so real." White knows he's playing the martyr, but he leaves the song
hauntingly open-ended, as though he isn't sure what to do with this epiphany beyond putting it in
a song.
The rest of Beulah was recorded in the Single Lock offices/studio near White's home. "I can be
more relaxed about the process. We can all just sit there and talk about records or baseball
without feeling like someone's standing over our shoulders. That's a big deal to me, not to feel
pressured. And I'm only about twenty yards away from home, so I can walk over and throw a
baseball with my kids or make dinner with my wife."
Some of the quieter—but no less intense—songs on Beulah were created in that environment,
including the ominously erotic opener "Black Leaf" and the Southern gothic love song "Make
You Cry." As he worked, a distinctive and intriguing aesthetic began to grow clearer and clearer,
one based in austere arrangements and plaintive moods. These are songs with empty spaces in
them, dark corners that could hold ghosts or worse. "There were certain moments when Ben and
I would finish up a song, listen back to it, and think how in the world did we get here. But that's
just what the songs ask for. These are the sounds in my head. This is the sound of me thinking
and living and breathing and doing."
Once White had everything assembled and sequenced, it was time to give the album a title, to
wrap everything up for the listener. Beulah stuck—not only because of family history or Blake,
but because White realized that making music was his own trip to Beulah. "If you had to sum up
what music is for most people in this world, it's that. It's that escape. It's that refuge. You go
there and you come back and you use that to help you with your life. You always have that as a
place to go."
The Kernal
The Kernal

The single "Green, Green Sky", following his debut FAREWELLHELLO, cut live at the Ardent Studios in Memphis and produced by Jeff Powell (Bob Dylan, Big Star, Centromatic, etc.,) is a tale of wanderlust and misguided ways set against the backdrop of a honky tonk rhythm and classic country vocal. The south flies through The Kernal’s lyrics, adding authenticity to the feel of the music, “But the tit for tat teaspoon's stirring round the night moon/ Sir, that ain't no summer breeze.”

Based in Jackson, TN, The Kernal & His New Strangers call the Downtown Tavern home and from that halfway point between two Tennessee music mecca’s, tour the country with their home-grown brand of Southern mystique. Tied deeply to the legacy of the wandering musician and the historic Grand Ole Opry, the Kernal, a southern gentleman with an old soul and youthful ambition, found his sound and showmanship in the greats of the classic Country music scene like Del Reeves. “My dad,” The Kernal reminisces, explaining the impetus of the band, “met Sleepy LaBeef at Limebaugh's Restaurant in Nashville. Lonzo & Oscar were looking for a drummer and he asked my dad if he could play a shuffle beat on the table. He did and he left for a 10-day run the next day. It worked out because soon he was playing with Sleepy.” From there, his father found his way to The Kendalls, and eventually to the legendary Del Reeves, with whom he would play until Reeves' death in 2007. His father died in September of the same year and the seed was planted. This legacy of the old country music way, of rock and roll on the fly, was not lost on the Kernal, and he took it as starting point from which to build his own contribution to the cannon of southern music.

"Tennessee Sun", the b-side to Green, Green Sky, is a love gone wrong song in the vein of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, with a chorus best sung with a whisky in one hand and the other around your friends, “I’m lettin’ go of everything I don’t need on my way down.” It is by no means a simple drinking song, with thoughtful couplets like this moment of heart-filled reflection, “I know time can be a healer and sometimes I’ll wanna feel her too/ But the hand of the dealer decides what he’s gonna do,” The Kernal lets you feel your way through the song as he did when he wrote it.

“It’s about old fabrics on new skin, and seeing how they get along, the frontman explains; the chemistry of tension with the old guard and the young gun, but with the respect and love that can only come from the South itself.