Based in the delightfully named Poetry, Texas, after 30 years making music, Call It Even is White’s first full-length release and speaks to his ability to craft songs that are both melodically inviting and emotionally engaging. Many of the songs are autobiographical, and especially based around mothers and fathers, as they speak of ambiguous feelings and of both joy and tragedy, opening with the title track, the first lines of which are “my daddy hit my momma on more than one occasion, but he also saved my ass a time or two. To this day I ain’t quite sure if I love him or hate him/Through these tinted windows, it’s hard to see the truth”). It proceeds to note how “not everything he said led me the wrong way”, recalling when his father told him never to use the n word, and of his mother, hitting the bottle “til the bottle hit her back…the only fight she ever lost”, but who was a “Southern angel who carried my cross” and put herself between her son and her husband while drowning herself. “Some people run with the devil and walk with Jesus. At their best they are your heroes, and the worst they are your demons”, he sings, the song evoking the power and raw honesty of Michael McDermott.
Elsewhere the tug of the parental yin and yang is captured in the pedal steel streaked ‘Dad’s Garage And Mama’s Kitchen’ as he recalls “between carburettors and casseroles, broken hearts and fishin’ poles/ there was always something needed fixin’/in dad’s garage and mama’s kitchen”, two very different worlds but embodying the idea that each parent provides love to their children in their own way.
That notion of how the most unlikely things can somehow end up working can also be found in the balladry of ‘Crazy But True’, where he draws on such seemingly impossible ideas as putting a man on the moon, making thousands of pounds of steel fly or float becoming a reality, extending the imagery to relationships between people because “seven billion hearts out there beating in the dark you walked into mine and turned the light on” and how “you don’t find love, it finds you”. It’s followed in the same vein by the more bluegrassy ‘Crazy ‘Til It Works’, a song inspired by hearing of a couple who got “married by Elvis in a drive-thru chapel in Vegas” about how a million to one shot can sometimes actually hit the target.
One of two co-writes with Helene Cronin, opening with keyboard drone and built around gospel-shaded piano, with snapshots of a nurse caring for an ornery old man and of a girl once again the new kid in town, ‘Humankind’ again tells of compassion and people coming together to find a mutual healing because “nothing eases human pain, like human kind”, a reminder that “it don’t take much to help someone, to save someone”.
Returning to a more personal note, ‘The Broken Part’ with its echoey, cosmic-like musical backdrop was born through grieving for his brother, Joey, and, once more, speaks of finding healing, through memories, the part that holds on.
Though never overt, the dusty-toned ‘Famous’ clearly draws on a New Testament backdrop to unfold a tale of those who sacrifice themselves for others, the man out in the crowd who says take me instead, as he asks “wouldn’t you tell everyone about that guy/And what he did that day? /Wouldn’t you spend every minute the rest of your life/Making his name famous?”
Coming at the idea of being strong from another angle, again shaded with pedal steel ‘Leaves, Branches, And Trunks’ notes how leaves and branches can be blown away but “trunks just stay right where they are/They don’t move an inch, they don’t tear apart/With roots so deep you can’t pull ‘em out”, returning to his parental heritage as he sings “Now I’ve been a leaf, and I’ve been a branch/Still trying to be more like my dad/Cuz there ain’t no doubt what he was”.
Opening with the sound of a woman and a child’s voices, extending the metaphor and conjuring musical thoughts of Harry Nilsson’s ‘Everybody’s Talkin’’, ‘Right Reasons (For Kaiya)’, adopts a list format in encouragement to be the best you can and that, “if ya gotta be guilty, be guilty of all the good things/If ya wanna be rich, be rich in all the real ways/If ya gotta be crazy, be crazy like Jesus/If ya wanna be famous, make sure you’re famous for all the right reasons” because “you won’t end up something you’re proud of accident’ly”.
Making the right choices and doing the right thing isn’t necessarily easy, and that provides the thematic anchor to the simply fingerpicked thoughtful ‘God’s Not Me’, a song essentially about how someone, be it a friend or God, stepped in and turned him away from the wrong path when if it had been him and left to his own devices “I’d a turned my back and walked away…left me to drown in my mistakes/Washed my hands of it all and just let me be”. As the song says “But thank God, I thank God, God’s not me”.
Having mentioned the pearly gates in that number, Call It Even ends with the midtempo, percussive ticking, guitar twang and gathering power of the salvational ‘When I Go’, another list song about hope and making the right choices (“I’ll leave the fame and take the love/I’ll leave the house and take the home… I’ll leave the times I fell flat on my face/And take the guts it took to try in the first place”) ending with the lump in the throat of “I’ll take the day we said ‘I do’/And all the tears i was looking at you through/As you came walking down the aisle/The look in your eyes, and man that smile”. It’s an even bet, this could end up on your 2021 best of.
Artist’s website: www.scottseanwhite.com
‘Humankind’ – official video: