In some ways, Jack White has begun to remind me of Tom Waits. Waits has a lot of stuff in the back of his shed — a Calliope, a box of old brass door knobs, a collection of vintage bull horns — that he hauls into the studio (or maybe he just hangs a microphone from a rafter). Somehow, disturbing and beautiful music ends up on the tape. White, on the other hand, collects old sounds and styles — a string section from old Westerns, a fuzztone amp from the 1960s, the sepia tone wobble of old pre-war 78s. The results manage to be both vintage and modern. On Lazaretto, White goes deep into that old idea closet.
White’s “old, yet new” vibe is related to his tendency to mix seemingly unrelated styles. This is a rare thing in the rock world these days, where homogeneity is the norm. If you look back at the recordings of many a rock figurehead, to say nothing of lots of blues artists, it was not uncommon to employ several styles on a single release. Led Zeppelin comes to mind here, with their perfectly natural transitions from blues to folk to blistering rock. This is definitely where Jack White is living these days.
On the instrumental High Ball Stepper, we have a little eastern-tinged intro that quickly morphs into a Ennio Morricone swagger, to be followed by a whole lotta acid-tingled blues stomp. “Just One Drink” is an exuberant blues/country raveup that splits instrumental time equally between electric guitar, piano, and acoustic guitar. Both the opening “Three Woman” and later on “That Black Bat Liquorice” ride one of those patented Jack White guitar grooves with the former taken over the top by some high voltage slide guitar, the latter leavened by some hilarious word play (when’s the last time you heard anybody rhyme “avuncular”?) and some cool fiddle work (thanks Miss Lillie Mae Rische) in the outro.
White also does some great work with the dynamics of sequencing here, both between and inside of the song. The gorgeous country ballad of “Entitlement” segues into the burn of “That Black Bat Liquorice.” The title track, full of hip-hop (ish) wordsmithing and powerhouse guitar downshifts into “Temporary Ground,” a country shuffle spiced with the vocals and fiddle (thanks again Miss Lillie Mae). During “Would You Fight For My Love?”, there’s an electric snap on the chorus when the electric guitar and ghostly backing vocals take off from the relative calm of the verse, built mostly on piano and Jack’s vocal.
After a fashion, you’ll come to realize that White has pulled out a lot of boxes of country music from the back of that closet. Lazaretto closes with one last bit of that with the ballad “Want And Able.” It’s tempting to think that White’s Nashville locale has been exerting some undue influence, but these country and blues elements have existed in much of his work, even going back to the early White Stripes records.
Well, we can only hope that Mr. White has some more dusty old boxes of stuff waiting to be cracked open. Hey, you think he’s got Tom Waits’ phone number? Hmmm…
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