New Music: Jack White – Lazaretto

Jack White - Lazaretto

Jack WhiteLazaretto //

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Three Women”
“High Ball Stepper”
“That Black Bat Licorice”

Album Highlights: No one has been more important to the future of rock ‘n’ roll for nearly two decades than Jack White. Since the late 1990s/early 2000s, White (born John Gillis) has pushed the boundaries of rock music more than any other musician. Even with The White Stripes now a thing of the past, he’s still proving to be one of the most innovative and prolific artists in the game today — whether it’s been with The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather or his own solo project more recently. Blunderbluss, his 2012 solo debut, was evidence in of itself that White’s songwriting chops have come a long way since his days playing alongside ex-wife Meg White.

But while the Grammy-nominated Blunderbluss furthers the genre-bending sound that White discovered with the Stripes during the recording sessions for Get Behind Me Satan and Icky Thump, his sophomore solo effort Lazaretto manifests the current musical landscape of Nashville — where White has resided since 2006 — by intertwining a smorgasbord of styles over the course of 39 minutes and change. On the album’s opening rocker “Three Women,” White cooks up a batch of old-school blues coated with pedal steel guitar and Hammond organ as he tell us, “I got three women / Red, blonde, and brunette / It took a digital photograph to pick which one I like.” Though the narrative may appear misogynist in nature, if you know anything about White, it’s all in good fun. The eight-time Grammy winner, after all, has never been one for technology, admitting in a recent interview with NPR that he still doesn’t own a cellphone (so how could he possibly enjoy digital photography then?).

The ensuing title track, meanwhile, crosses over into another sonic realm — a brief journey into rap rock compliments of White’s fuzzed-out bass line — he hasn’t spent much time experimenting with, as he mocks modern-day emcees with rhymes like “They threw me down in the lazaretto / Born rottin’, bored rotten / Makin’ models of people I used to know / Out of coffee and cotton.” It’s definitely a departure from the garage-heavy blues rock we have come to expect from White, which he so masterfully hypnotizes us with on his initial single “High Ball Stepper.”

Of course, what makes White such a unique songwriter is his ability to transition from one high-octane cut (see “Lazaretto”) to a country-tinged folk ballad (see “Temporary Ground” featuring Nashville’s Lillie Mae Rische on fiddle and backup vocals) in the drop of a hat. There’s even a cameo appearance from one of White’s Dead Weather bandmates, Dean Fertita (also of Queens of the Stone Age fame), on the piano rock-driven “Would You Fight for My Love?” Yet, it’s clear that White’s bravado shines brightest with a guitar in his hands and a chip on his shoulder, as exhibited on the aggressive, funk-fueled anthem “That Black Bat Licorice.” “Women need to know, I play dumb like Columbo / And get my feelings hurt and move to New York like I’m Dumbo” the Detroit native raps before Ruby Amanfu’s violin work brings things to a close, demonstrating that at a moment’s notice, White is more than capable of surprising us with something we’ve never heard quite like this before.

Album Lowlight: No matter which band he’s making music for these days, White has never been one to take the easy way out. He’s even said so much in interviews. White put himself through the ringer trying to tour with two backing bands — the all-male Buzzards and all-female Peacocks — for Blunderbuss, and he struggled to write the lyrics to Lazaretto for “seven or eight months” after recording the music. While White certainly has a strange way of working, it shouldn’t be a complete surprise that not every track on Lazaretto flows seamlessly right into the next. It may not suit some folks, but that’s just the way White wanted it.

Takeaway: As eccentric as he is, White remains the ultimate virtuoso in today’s music industry — and Lazaretto does nothing to disprove that notion. Over the course of 11 songs, he dabbles in rock, blues, folk and country, blending all of them together for a finished product that’s truly one of a kind. It’s not as cohesive as Blunderbluss from start to finish, but the standout songs on Lazaretto are some of the best White has ever written. At only age 38, White stands as a trailblazer in his own right, having already achieved more than some artists do in a lifetime. And with White leading the charge, the future of rock ‘n’ roll is undoubtedly in good hands.

~Josh Herwitt

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