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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The New Norah Jones Album “Little Broken Hearts” Sings.

For the usual five minutes there in the autumn of 2001, all the talk was about an intoxicating songstress who managed to deliver grown-up pop, infused with Nashville and gently draped in the soft velvet of candle-lit lounge.

But then Norah Jones went and did something unforgivable. She released a debut album the following February that went on to sell over 20 million copies. This she compounded by taking her overnight fame with a casual shrug of the shoulders. And if all that weren’t bad enough, she had to look like that.

None of which is terribly fair. It’s hardly her fault is hers is the sound that ends up lining the walls of every boutique, lift and shopping mall in the western world.

Nonetheless, there was a sense that when she teamed up with Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) last year, she was quietly trying to ever so slightly distance herself from the Norah Jones of old.

She’d been called in by Burton to provide vocals for three of the tracks on his Leone/Morricone inspired Rome (reviewed earlier here). And unsurprisingly, given how well that turned out, the pair have teamed up officially now to jointly produce her new album, Little Broken Hearts.

The other ingredient in the mix, as the title suggests, is a gal called Miriam, and it’s she and what she gone done that has ended up giving Jones something to get her teeth stuck into.

Well it ain’t easy to stay in love, if you can’t tell a lie, So I’ll just have to take a bow, and say good-bye, she sings on the second track “Say Goodbye”. And as the album progresses, her bitterness gently rises to the surface until eventually, Miriam is unmasked.

As Sasha Frere-Jones notes in his review of it in the New Yorker here, she manages to deftly walk the line between taking her music to the next step, but doing so without alienating her loyal, not to say vast fan base. In this regard, Burton in the ideal, indeed the only choice to act as her foil.

As ever then, plush, lush, rich velvet, but with an edge.

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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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