On his second album for Checkered Past, Tom House continues to refine his tightly woven working-class narratives that transport listeners to the American South. House’s vocals sometimes remind of John Prine, and his disregard of lyrical meter recalls Lightnin’ Hopkins; in combination, the effect can be devastating. He groans, yowls and murmurs the words to “Oh Lord” and rants through “Ain’t No Man” like a man possessed. But he can sing it straight, too, as on the stunning a cappella waltz “Pale Morning Light”.
The effect of House’s well-honed lyrics is heightened by stripped-down instrumentation: House’s acoustic guitar is punctuated by Lambchop’s Paul Chase on percussion and Tommy Goldsmith on mandolin and occasionally electric guitar. Guests include Rick Roberts on fiddle and banjo, Alice Paschall on piano, and Tomi Lunsford on backing vocals.
The album’s centerpiece is its title track, driven home by a sarcastic chorus: “I am a white man/I am not threatened/I am not frightened/I am not sweating/This new world coming/Just down the road/This white man’s burden/Is not my load.” No doubt there are those out there who will take that message a little too literally.
A longtime poet, House hadn’t released an album until a couple of years ago, when he was 47. This White Man’s Burden is another sign that he’s more than made up for lost time.