New Jack White Album “Lazaretto” Kicks.

Jack White's "Lazaretto".

Jack White’s “Lazaretto”.

It’s hard to believe that this is only Jack White’s second solo album. True, the White Stripes only officially disbanded in 2011, but their last album, Icky Thump was way back in 2007.

It’s hard to believe because in the interim he seems to have become a one man music making machine.

There was The Raconteurs, the band he formed with Brendan Benson and co. The Dead Weather, the one he put together with Alison Mosshart from the Kills and Dean Fertita from Queens of The Stone Age. The wonderfully atmospheric album Rome, produced by the similarly ubiquitous Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi (reviewed earlier here). Plus the small matter of Third Man Records, the record label he formed and runs seemingly entirely on his own.

So far his Nashville studio has played host to Wanda Jackson, Laura Marling, Loretta Lynn, First Aid Kit (reviewed earlier here), Drive By Truckers and Beck as well as producing reissues of Charlie Patton, Blind Willie McTell and Rufus Thomas. Oh, and his cracking first solo effort, Blunderbuss from 2012, reviewed earlier here.

The White Stripes in all their pomp with "Elephant".

The White Stripes in all their pomp with “Elephant”.

Lazaretto his second is, in the best possible sense, a greatest hits compilation of the many different musical moods and genres that he’s drawn to.

There’s the austerity and rigour of the White Stripes, the more expansive and relaxed country rock of the Raconteurs, and that constant pursuit and exploration of the roots and rhythms of his American musical heritage that’s becoming increasingly central to everything he does.

In this, and in his constant restlessness, that sense of being forever driven to gaze ever further afield, and ever more deeper within, we finally have a musician genuinely capable of picking up the mantle of his friend and musical mentor Bob Dylan.

White’s the real deal. And Lazaretto, as you’d expect, is gold.

You can see the title track’s video Lazaretto here.

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Bob Dylan’s Triumphant Fourth Act Continues with “Tempest”.

First came the troubled and wondrously angry young man of the 1960s. Then there was the older and wiser and all too wounded solitary figure of the 70s. Then, even more remarkably, he re-emerged for a third incarnation with Oh Mercy in 89 and then with Time Out Of Mind.

And if that weren’t enough, he burst forth for a fourth time, back on to the scene and into relevance in the 00s with an explosion of activity.

Four albums (so far) with Love and Theft (01), Modern Times (06), Together Through Life (09) and now Tempest. The extraordinarily candid Chronicles Volume One (04).  Scorsese’s documentary. And of course the peerless Theme Time Radio Hours (see here for earlier review).

If you want to understand where his latest album Tempest is coming from, and how he arrived at it, you need to go back to Chronicles and its fourth chapter on “Oh Mercy”.

It had never occurred to me that, by the 1980s, Dylan might have been every bit as disappointed with what he’d been doing with himself for the previous fifteen years or so as his legion of fans were. Nobody, it transpires, was quite as disillusioned with the path that he’d chosen to go down than he himself was.

“There was a missing person inside of myself and I needed to find him.”

He says at the beginning of the chapter and we don’t so much as follow him as he recalls where he was then. Rather we’re there with him, in real time, as he burrows deep inside in the hope of discovering the source of his turmoil.

” I felt done for, an empty burned-out wreck…  I’m a ’60s troubadour, a folk-rock relic, a wordsmith from bygone days… in the bottomless pit of cultural oblivion. I was what they called over the hill.”

Until all of a sudden, out of absolutely nowhere, he stumbles into a jazz joint and has one of those near-mythical, Joycean epiphanies. And to his astonishment, where he needs to be going, musically, and what he needs to do to get there are gloriously and crystal clear. And he begins the journey out of his self-sculpted Stygian gloom and back into the light.

“I had a gut feeling that I had created a new genre, a style that didn’t exist as of yet and one that would be entirely my own.”

It would take him years to get there, that much was clear.

“I wished I was at least twenty years younger, wished that I had just dropped on the scene all over again.”

But for the first time in years, he was palpably excited.

“I was anticipating the spring, looking forward to stepping out on the stage where I’d be entirely at once author, actor, prompter, stage manager, audience and critic combined. That would be different.”

In retrospect, the next couple of albums, Oh Mercy and Time Out Of Mind were not so much the result of that new approach as they were stations on the way.

It was only with the current batch that that destination had truly been arrived at. And Tempest is the latest, and therefore the best example of where that was.

There’s a fascinating interview he gives with Mikal Gilmore in the September issue of Rolling Stone. You can get a taster of what’s in it here.

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The New Yorker Magazine, A Beam of Light Illuminating Innumerable Worlds.

The New Yorker staff writer Jonah Lehrer resigned in July, after eventually being forced to admit that a number of the quotes he’d attributed to Bob Dylan in his best selling book Imagine: How Creativity Works had been made up by him.

You can read about it here in The Washington Post, or you can get the full account of precisely how he was unmasked by the man responsible, Michael C. Moynihan, in his fascinating piece in The Tablet, here.

Inevitably, some people have suggested that this could be as damaging for The New Yorker as Jayson Blair was for The New York Times after similar behavior there.

But Lehrer’s “lies” were in his best selling book, not the magazine. And if anything, what both cases point to is how increasingly difficult it is to get away with that kind of dishonesty in this day and age. Especially when you write for a publication like The New Yorker, which is so justly famed for the quality of its writing and the meticulous care with which each and every piece is put together.

I’ve been subscribing for about ten years now, and I waft about the place in a permanent state of wonder at the quality of each and every issue.

The July 9th and 16th edition for instance contained the following (there are 47 issues every year so some of the holiday issues cover two weeks, instead of the usual one):

There was a fascinating if inevitably depressing overview by Dexter Filkins of where Afghanistan is after ten years of US occupation, and what’s likely to happen there after they leave in 2014.

At over 10,000 words long, there are few if any other publications in the world prepared to provide their writers with that kind of window, and to give them the funds needed to conduct the sort of research a piece like that demands.

Then there was a piece by Michael Specter on Oxitec and the genetically modified mosquitos that they’ve released into certain carefully controlled environments in the Caribbean and, now, in Brazil. These have been genetically designed to self-destruct.

What will the unforeseen consequences be of releasing creatures created by man in the laboratory into the environment? On the other hand, very unusually, mosquitos appear to exist for the sole purpose of reproducing.

They don’t seem to be part of anything else’s diet, and the only creature they seem to rely on is us. And they’re responsible for half the deaths in the history of humanity. So surely the possibility of eliminating them is something to be welcomed?

Nathan Heller had a piece on the uber-hip TED talks and their messianic advocates.

And there were wonderfully illuminating and quietly moving extracts from the diary kept by the American writer Mavis Gallant as she struggled to balance being a woman, a writer, and an American trying to eek out a living in the detritus that was left of Europe in the aftermath of the II World War.

Then there are their stable of critics. Anthony Lane on cinema, Alex Ross on classical music, Judith Thurman on fashion and Peter Schjeldahl on art, to name but four of their unflappable titans. Plus the financial page, their Shouts and Murmurs (Joel Stein was particularly funny in this issue), their cartoons and of course their fiction.

It’s a slow week when I manage to finish reading an entire issue in any given week, and the short story that they publish is usually, alas, an inevitable casualty. But I make an exception for William Trevor, Junot Diaz (who had a piece in the following issue), Alice Munroe, Colm Tóibín and any of the older pieces by Updike or Nabokov that they occasionally publish.

It is by a country mile the best written, most meticulously researched and impeccably curated publication in the world. And at a little over $100 a year for a subscription, it’ll cost you barely two Euro a week. If you’ve any curiosity at all, about anything under the sun, you should treat yourself now.

And so what if you don’t manage to finish reading it (or even opening it) every week. Your read and unread copies will be greedily welcomed by friends and family alike.

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Dexys’ “One Day I’m Going To Soar” Triumphs.

When news surfaced of the return of Kevin Rowland and Dexys, they of the Midnight Runners, there was an understandable air of scepticism. Not another middle-aged has-been trying to relive past glories and cash in on a dusty back catalogue. But very quickly, word got out that this was the real deal. An actual return to form.

One Day I’m Going To Soar is the fourth album from Dexys and their first since Don’t Stand Me Down in 1985, the inevitably doomed follow-up to the all-conquering Too-Rye-Ay 27 years ago.

The latter had produced the world-wide sensation “Come On Eileen”, the best selling single of 1982. Not to mention of course the Van Morrison cover “Jackie Wilson Said”, another hit single which they performed so memorably on TOTP while holding a portrait of the Scottish darts heart-throb Jocky Wilson.

Incredibly, to the complete shock of everyone working in the music industry, as soon as they had achieved their overnight success Dexys promptly imploded.

In fairness, of all the people suddenly thrust into the limelight, Rowland was probably the least well equipped to cope with its glare. And after the traditional sacking of band mates, falling out with record labels and descent into drug addiction, he eventually produced the questionably honest solo album My Beauty for Creation Records (immediately before they imploded) in 1999. That’s him on its cover sporting a fetching dress.

So it was to everyone’s amazement and, frankly relief that the British music press began to report in May that the new Dexys tour was something of a sensation. The shy but ever reliable Simon Price summed up their reaction in his Independent On Sunday piece here.

And what all the fuss was about became blindingly obvious when they appeared on Later with Jools Holland where they began, ballsily, with a performance of “Come On Eileen” which you can see here. That’s how you take the dry air of a television studio and set the building on fire.

Essentially a concept album, One Day I’m Going To Soar centres around the five tracks that chart Rowland as he falls hopelessly in, and then just as unexpectedly and as inexplicably out of love with the object of his desire.

Lyrically, it’s reminiscent of Dylan in the early 70s. But when the latter sang love is all there is, it makes the world go ’round, it was easy to miss quite how profound a realization this was, despite coming from one of the most sophisticated lyricists of the 20th century as it was delivered in such an off-hand manner.

There’s no mistaking the pain and heartache that have led Rowland to exactly the same conclusion. You can hear it in that still remarkable voice, and it’s made all the more palpable by his apparent inability to hold and hang on to love.

Brutally honest, but gloriously expansive musically speaking, there are any number of echoes of the early and mid 70s throughout, from the Stylistics and Sylvester to Sly and The Family Stone. But the principle constellation is still Van Morrison. And it’s one that Rowland and Dexys are comfortably capable of living with. A triumphant return and a stellar album.

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“Blunderbuss” by Jack White, verily a Prince Amongst Men.

Jack WhiteJack White is Bob Dylan’s much younger and much more industrious baby brother. Incredibly, he very nearly has the great man’s depth of vision and musical scope, but unburdened by the weight of messianic adulation, nice and quietly he’s living the musical dream.

Globally speaking, the White Stripes were little more than A N Other guitar band making a reasonably good living doing their thing. Within the world of music though, they were a phenomenon. A blindingly bright lightening bolt that lit up the night skies in a flash of uncompromising, searing brilliance.

White took that success and ran with it. He formed a couple of satellite bands, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, launched his record label Third Man Records, and in 2009 bought a building in Nashville which he transformed into a recording hub.

There he’s produced LPs and singles (on vinyl of course) for the likes of Loretta Lynn, Wanda Jackson, First Aid Kit (reviewed here), Jerry Lee Lewis, Tom Jones and Alabama Shakes (reviewed here) as well as dueting with Norah Jones for three of the tracks on Danger Mouse’s Rome (reviewed here).

But last year The White Stripes officially called it a day. And then a few months later, White and his wife Karen Olson split up, marking the occasion, characteristically, with a divorce party. So this is his first outing as a single man. And there were really only ever two possible outcomes.

Either the Stripes depended for their magic on some intangible alchemical combination of both Meg and Jack. Or, the most potent force in rock will always be Jack White with whoever it is that he’s happens to have paired himself up with that particular morning. Blunderbuss puts that dilemma to bed once and for all.

It’s intriguing, not to say generous, of White to insist that it was Meg who wore the trousers in the band, as he does in Josh Eells’ superb interview in the NY Times here – sited in Pitchfork’s generous review here, not withstanding their skimpy 7.8.

But it’s blindingly obvious that it was he who was the band’s engine, its fuel, transmission and upholsterer. And Blunderbuss is an impressive amalgamation of all of the musical avenues he’s been exploring in all of the many musical projects he’s been involved with to date.

According to the interview he gave to All Songs Considered here, he kept two separate backing bands on hold, an all-male one and an all-female one. And one of the many pleasures that the album affords is trying to spot which one is which.

I’d have a small wager that the funky groves of I’m Shakin’ bespeak a female troupe, and not just because of the lush, Spector-esque female backing vocals, including, again characteristically (of them both) his now ex-wife Olsen.

Whilst it’s impossible not to conclude that the primal propulsion of the majestic single Sixteen Saltines is the work of undiluted machismo – and quite correctly, White positioned this as his track 2. The album would have been quite overwhelmed by it had he begun with it.

This is a proper piece of work from a very serious musician indeed. Quite simply, the man’s royalty.

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