In the mid-'80s and early '90s, the Janglers, a Cleveland-based quintet, earned a rep as one of the Midwest's most exciting live acts. With two full-length recordings, 1988's Sweet Providence
(which earned the group comparisons to the Band) and 1992's Circuit Ride
(which found them moving in a more Allman Brothers-style direction), they earned a cult following and shared bills with the likes of Bo Diddley, Phish, and Widespread Panic before calling it quits in 1993. Jason White has since relocated to Nashville, where he has released Shades of Gray
, a terrific solo debut on the indie label Hanging Vines. The album shows off White's literate writing style as well as his strong melodies, and though he's signed to Acuff-Rose Publishing, he's hardly turned into a country singer. Stylistically, his songs resemble an edgier Peter Case (though he cites Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and Elvis Costello as influences). Staying largely in a midtempo groove, with his boyish vocals prominent in the mix, White's lyrical portraits are unrelentingly bleak, though the record's outstanding hooks tend to nicely counteract the prevailing gloom. (A case in point: "99°," a tale of twisted revenge, centers on the victim of a brutal rape who, tending bar years later, recognizes her assailant among the patrons. After getting him good and drunk, she offers him a ride home and proceeds to drive off a bridge, killing them both.) White clearly has a penchant for chronicling lives of quiet desperation, be it the troubled denizens of the local bar in the descriptive "At the Alibi" or the poor, beleaguered Everyman of "Average Joe," whose trying personal life has him longing for the good old days. An ace storyteller armed with guitar hooks and catchy melodies to spare, White calls his touring band the Dying Breed -- an apt metaphor for his timeless yet increasingly scarce brand of rock poetry in the singer-songwriter mold.