Review: Jack White’s 2nd LP of 2022, The Less Experimental ‘Entering Heaven Alive’ – An Intimate Gem

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“Ask yourself if you’re happy and then you cease to be, that’s a tip from you to me…” – Jack White, “A Tip From You To Me”

As long time readers of B&V know, we love us some Jack White around here. I was a relatively early adopter on the mighty White Stripes and was lucky enough to see them twice in concert. The first time I saw them was in a smaller, 3500-seat arena and it felt like Jack White was playing guitar in my lap. Meg White played the drums with the ferocity of a “hangry” Neanderthal who hadn’t eaten in a while. When the Stripes sadly called it a day we followed Jack into the Raconteurs (whose first album came out while he was still in the White Stripes… so technically they were more of a side project at the time), and then into his solo career. While I did follow Jack into his solo endeavors it doesn’t mean that when the Stripes broke up I didn’t stand in my front yard like that kid in the movie Shane, yelling, “Meg, come back, Meg…” but as usual, I digress.

I loved those first two Jack White solo albums, Blunderbuss (2012) and Lazaretto (2014). When Jack released his second album of 2022 last Friday, Entering Heaven Alive, it immediately went into high rotation here at the B&V labs. But part of the fun of doing this thing is going back and listening to older music from the artist. Both those first two Jack White solo LPs have slipped back into high rotation here at the house along with the new one and I’m loving it. Everyone should own those two albums, they should be taught in high school music classes. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since Blunderbuss came out. While Jack is at his best hopping around twisting and torturing fabulous notes from his guitar while singing like a corner preacher on meth, I just couldn’t follow him on his 2018 release Boarding House Reach. He had thrown convention to the wind. It was as though his genius had finally outstretched his grasp.

He then got back into the Raconteurs with 2019’s LP Help Us Stranger. I really liked that album and for me it seemed like a bit of a return to form for White. Well, at least it was a return to conventional song structures. Call me old fashion but I kinda dig the whole verse-chorus-verse thing. I heard that Jack was going to emerge from the Covid thing with not one but two new LPs in 2022 and I’ll admit I was excited. I really liked the first single “Taking Me Back” from the first of the two LPs, Fear Of The Dawn. It gave me hope that Fear Of The Dawn was going to be a return to that Blunderbuss or Lazaretto sound. Alas, I could not connect with it. It was, like Boarding House Reach, more of a sound collage than a collection of songs. It was so experimental it came across like a series of guitar noises instead of melodies. I have no qualms about an artist stretching themselves – go where the muse takes you – but I just couldn’t get into it and I love the guy’s music.

I wondered what that would mean for the his impending second LP of 2022, Entering Heaven Alive. I had heard it was going to be more of a hushed, acoustic affair. I was good with that. Jack is more than just a guitar god and make no mistake the guy is a six string genius, but he can do a lot more. I’ve always liked his acoustic guitar/piano side since the early days of “Apple Blossom” or the iconic “We’re Going To Be Friends.” I was wondering how experimental he could go with an acoustic guitar. The guy is a genius so I realized anything was possible. Then I heard what I thought was the first single, “If I Die Tomorrow” and I was just knocked out by that song. To these ears that forlorn track ranks among his best tunes. It certainly remains my favorite track on the album.

Needless to say, the less experimental, (mostly) acoustic Entering Heaven Alive does not disappoint. This is the best thing Jack White has done in a long time. The quieter instrumentation allows the songs to come across as more intimate and heartfelt. I know Jack recently got married, on stage at a concert no less, so maybe that influenced this latest LP. There are a number of songs, at the front end of the record about love specifically. While this album is going to be lauded as a less experimental work, there are moments of Jack’s signature experimental side. “I’ve Got You Surrounded (With My Love)” is like a hypnotic jazz jam with ticking drums, echoing vocals and sporadic stabs of guitar. It sounds like you’ve just wandered into a groovy jazz club during a Saturday afternoon open jam. It comes in the middle of the record and it’s perfectly placed. “Madman From Manhattan” is another groovy track with surreal spoken lyrics. It has a strumming guitar and drums. It’s a fun song to listen to. I half expected the song to have bongos. I really like both of these off kilter tracks.

Those more experimental tracks are great but the backbone of the album are tracks more akin to “If I Die Tomorrow.” The album opens up with “A Tip From You To Me” and it signals the vibe right off the bat with the sound of an acoustic guitar strum. Jack’s vocals on the song are intense and are only underscored by the acoustic guitar/piano that frames his voice. When he sings, “Oh, will love leave me alone tonight? Oh, I don’t know,” it’ll grab you. It’s another favorite. It’s followed by three songs about love which probably give the album the intimate vibe I mentioned earlier. “All Along The Way,” where Jack sings about devotion. It’s just Jack’s voice, acoustic guitar with some keyboards slipping in and out until the bridge kicks in with the full band. Very effective. “Help Me Along” is a jaunty track that reads like his wedding vows…I like the keyboards that help carry the song along like a cloud. I wish I could have written a song like this one for the Rock Chick when I met her. That track leads into “Love Is Selfish” which reminds me of “We’re Going To Be Friends,” it’s that kind of sound. I think it ranks amongst his prettiest tunes. “A Tree On Fire From Within” that has a cascading piano and a great bass line towards the end of the album and it’s another winner.

There are also a couple of “old-timey” tracks on the album. They’re the kind of songs Paul McCartney used to be so fond of like “Martha My Dear” from the White Album. The album’s last track is “Taking Me Back (Gently)” which is the Fear Of The Dawn track done like it was recorded in the 20s… the 1920s. Lots of violin on this version or perhaps I should say, fiddle. I like this version of the song. But then, I dug those McCartney songs that John Lennon used to call “granny music.” Another track in this same vein is “Queen of The Bees,” that I think was released as a b-side to one of the Fear Of The Dawn tracks. It’s a jaunty, but very catchy, little song. I find the wordplay in the lyrics to be hysterical, “Oh honey, can’t you see I wanna hold you, like a sloth hugs a tree, ‘Cause I crave you, like a glass needs wine.” My glass certainly craves wine… it’s 5 o’clock somewhere?

Finally there’s “Please God, Don’t Tell Anyone” that reads like a man’s confession of past sins to his “Creator.” It, like “If I Die Tomorrow” have a heavy death theme. Love and Death, the ultimate combination. “Please God,” reads like a Jean Valjean story from Les Miserables. A man who has lied, cheated and stolen but only to feed and clothe his children comes clean. The narrator is unburdening himself so we have to guess he’s reached the end and wants to come clean. It’s a damn affecting track complete with saloon piano.

As you can tell, I am completely swept away by Entering Heaven Alive. An album this good feels like a phone call from a long lost friend. After my disappointment over Fear Of The Dawn (I didn’t even review it, I could barely listen to the whole thing) this album is a real treat. Putting out two LPs in one year is so old school and I just love it. I wish artists would feel more of a sense of urgency to put out more amazing music like this album. I think Entering Heaven Alive will be looked back up on as one of Jack White’s finest solo albums. It’s that good. It’s emotionally effective and melodic. It’s the perfect late night listen… perhaps with a glass of sour mash while ruminating on the patio… the music never gets loud enough to wake the neighbors so that’s a plus.

Pick this one up post haste. Especially if you’re a fan of the  White Stripes’ quieter moments.

Cheers!

New Song Review: Jack White, “If I Die Tomorrow,” From His Second LP of 2022, ‘Entering Heaven Alive’

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“If I die tomorrow, could you find it in your heart to sing?” – Jack White, “If I Die Tomorrow”

As longtime readers of B&V know, I’m a huge fan of Jack White. I think the man is a genius. He’s one of the best guitarists of his generation. Like most people I got on his bandwagon during his time in the White Stripes. But I also followed him over to the Raconteurs, his first “proper” side project. I even kept an eye on the Dead Weather such was my “fandom” of Mr. White and he was just the drummer in that band. But, I have to admit, when I heard he had a new song out, “If I Die Tomorrow,” I hesitated a second. Over the last few albums Jack has made me feel a little like Charlie Brown from my dad’s favorite cartoon, Peanuts.

When Jack finally went solo in 2012 I absolutely loved that first album Blunderbuss. I was equally enthusiastic about the follow up Lazaretto. Naturally my anticipation around his third solo album was, shall we say, “fever-pitched.” I was crushingly disappointed with 2018’s Boarding House Reach and wrote about it here on B&V, LP Review: Creativity And The Curious Case of Jack White & ‘Boarding House Reach’. I applauded his creativity and his striving for something new, but the album just left me cold. When he reunited with the Raconteurs for 2019’s Help Us Stranger I was delighted. I felt his being back in a real band gave some structure to his creative impulses and said so, LP Review: The Raconteurs’ (Jack White) ‘Help Us Stranger’.

I read late last year, or perhaps early this year that Jack had not wasted his time in pandemic lockdown and would be issuing not one new LP, but two. After the positive experience with Help Us Stranger I couldn’t help it, I let my excitement and anticipation get a little out of control. The first single did nothing to staunch that excitement. I thought the song “Taking Me Back” was a great first salvo (and even liked the softer version, “Taking Me Back (Gently)”). But then I heard the entire LP Fear Of The Dawn and I didn’t even review it. There’s enough negativity in the world, if I don’t like something I don’t generally review it (the ol’ “if you’ve nothing nice to say, say nothing at all”). It sounded like nails in a blender to me, nothing but odd sound experiments. I would have never guessed that both Jack White and the Black Keys would put out albums and it’d be Dropout Boogie that’d be the better album. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Black Keys and don’t mean to compare them to Jack or the White Stripes, I think they’re consistently fantastic, but Jack is my “O.G.” on that bluesy, punky, rock. But the Black Keys simply delivered on Dropout Boogie.

This week as I was getting back on my feet again after the Memorial Day holiday and my annual summer cold (the cold leaves, the cough stays until the 4th of July), I saw that Jack had another new song out, the lead single from his upcoming 2nd LP of the year, Entering Heaven Alive. And this, faithful readers, is where I hesitated. In the aforementioned cartoon Peanuts, Charlie Brown is kind of an “everyman” and some might say a loser. He has a neighbor, Lucy, who brings over her football every fall and says she’ll hold the ball and Charlie can kick it, like a field goal. Every year he hesitates because he knows at the last minute Lucy will pull the football away and Charlie will fly through the air and land on his ass. You’ll have to forgive me, but after Boarding House Reach and Fear Of The Dawn, I’m starting to think of Jack White as Lucy with the football. I just don’t want to work myself up like Charlie and end up flying through the air and landing on my ass again.

With all my mental health issues around rock n roll anticipation aside, I have to say, I’m quite taken with this new song, “If I Die Tomorrow.” While Fear Of The Dawn was a rock and roll album, Entering Heaven Alive was billed as being a more “folky” set of songs. I took that to mean more acoustic. Who doesn’t love Jack White acoustic? One of his earliest popular tunes was the beautiful “We’re Going To Be Friends.” With the new song, he’s released this video:

I don’t usually comment on videos, I’m here for the music, but that’s a pretty cool video. It’s surreal enough to fit the subject matter. I feel like this is the kind of video I’d have sat up late on a Friday night in college, into the wee small hours, drinking beer and waiting to see again.

In terms of the song, from the first cymbal, strummed acoustic guitar and violin a sense of drama envelops the song. The singer asks for us to look after his mother if she “weeps in sorrow.” He asks us to even mix her a double of her favorite drink, apparently lemon flavored. Who doesn’t love a lemonade and vodka, but I’m off topic. It’s an acoustic song but it’s not laid back at all. It actually has a slow burn intensity that I keep coming back to. The guitar solo sounds almost jumbled like something off of “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” like they sliced the tape up and tossed it in the air and then re-assembled it, if that makes sense. It’s not a searing guitar solo, its more surreal which befits the song and the subject matter. Jack’s vocal is at once sad and hopeful.

While this may be the thoughts of a dying man, I can’t help but feel warm when I hear the sentiment of the last verse:

If I die tomorrow
Will you let me know I left in peace?
I begged and I borrowed
Everybody’s love, and they gave for free
And I wish that I could give it back to them
So, if I die tomorrow
Will you give them all the love they lent to me?

That last line sounds oddly hopeful to me and these days when so much grim shit is going down, I could use a little sharing of love to boost me up. Pay it forward, as they say.

I love this song. However, I am taking a much more cautious approach to what Entering Heaven Alive might bring us. All I know is this a great tune, especially to listen to during some late night, whiskey in a tumbler rumination.

Cheers!

New Song! Jack White Returns Solo With The Guitar Bonanza “Taking Me Back” b/w “Taking Me Back (Gently)” – Our Thoughts

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There’s a commercial I’m fond of quoting where this guy says, in a folksy drawl no less, “I wish I could tell ya how I feel about a morning like this.” I usually like to repeat it when the Rock Chick has roused me earlier than I care to be awakened and so its usually dripping with sarcasm when it comes from me. However, if I may be so bold as to paraphrase that commercial for breakfast sausage and in this case mean it with all sincerity – I wish I could tell you how I feel about a guitar driven rock song like this one. Jack White is back solo, baby! And it’s grand.

I think everyone associated with B&V knows what a big fan of Jack White I am. I got on his bandwagon early while he was still with the White Stripes, his original band – although admittedly not on the “ground floor.” It wasn’t until I heard White Blood Cells their third LP in its entirety that I got on the White Stripes’ bandwagon. I immediately purchased every LP the Stripes had put out before that which at that time was their debut LP and De Stijl. After that, I purchased every LP they put out including their live album… but then I’m known for loving live albums. If a group can bring it live, they just elevate themselves in my mind. And believe me, having seen the White Stripes in concert twice – once at venerable Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas and the other at Starlight Theater on the Missouri side – they can bring it live. If you missed out on the White Stripes they put out a fabulous Greatest Hits LP at the end of last year that is a great place to start with their catalog.

I dug what Jack White could do with the guitar (and keyboards and vocals and production and pretty much all things music) so much that I followed him into his first side project, the Raconteurs. I thought that was a great creative outlet for him. Having only played with Meg White on drums, it was nice to see Jack stretch out with a full rhythm section (both bass and drums) and have a singing/guitar foil in Brendan Benson. Consolers Of The Lonely is probably my favorite of their records (“Carolina Drama” is epic), but I dug their last LP, Help Us Stranger as well. I was still so into Jack I even dabbled in his second side project, the Dead Weather where Jack mostly just plays drums (and sings a bit).

Eventually the White Stripes broke up and Jack went solo. And let me say, he did so gloriously with two great LPs, Blunderbuss and Lazaretto. Sure, I missed the White Stripes and especially the drumming of Meg White who is apparently retired, but Jack’s solo work was so outstanding it assuaged those feelings. I have even gone so far as to describe Jack White as one of the “great men of rock n roll,” based on a similar theory in history that posits that all of history can largely be explained by the actions of great men or heroes. Sadly, Jack lost me on his last solo LP, 2018’s Boarding House Reach. He hired a bunch of musicians who had never really played rock n roll and reached for something completely outside the box and sadly it just completely… lost me. However, I felt that he bounced back immediately in 2019 with his old buddies the Racnonteurs on the aforementioned Help Us Stranger. It seemed to give him that rock n roll structure and reign in some of his more excessive instincts. Everybody’s better with a band of comrades.

I did wonder what would happen with Jack’s solo career. Would he return? Would he just keep producing and working with the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather? Perhaps he’s turned his attention to Third Man Records, the label he owns. During the pandemic I wondered if perhaps he’d return to doing re-upholstery work? Heaven knows the world needs skilled laborers… there’s a fortune to be made. My concerns were answered late last week when Jack released a rocking new song, “Taking Me Back.” I’m beginning to think that Wednesdays at B&V may become our “new song Wednesday” celebration after last week’s new single from Neil Young & Crazy Horse, “Song of the Seasons.”  Lets hope new music keeps pouring out! Although admittedly while Young has a new LP, Barn slated for December, there’s no word on whether this new Jack White song heralds a new LP or if its a one-off. He did use the same artwork from Boarding House Reach so you never know…

“Taking Me Back” opens with guitar distortion that sounds like the tornado siren in my neighborhood, in a good way… warning kids, get in your basement, rock n roll guitar storm coming. Then Jack moves to a big, fat, fuzzy riff. I had a slight flash back to the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” These are the kind of unhinged Jack White vocals that I live for, almost barking over the cacophony of drums and layered guitars… the guitars seem to come at you from every speaker. I particularly like this lyric, about half way through, “When you drop the mail off to me and you make us both coffee, are you taking it black? Are you taking me back?” If this is Jack asking his audience if we’ll take him back after Boarding House Reach, all of us down at B&V say, “Hell, yes!” I played the track for the Rock Chick and she said, “That’s a really, really good song.” Indeed.

The single was released with another track. Just to prove what a genius he is, Jack re-recorded the song in an old timey manner that would have made Paul McCartney (who wrote “Martha My Dear”) green with envy. The second song is “Taking Me Back (Gently).” I actually love the “Gently” version of the song… well I love both versions. There’s a violin and brushed drums that move the song along. The vocal is completely different, much… calmer. There are acoustic guitars and piano – I particularly dig Jack’s acoustic guitar solo. Its funny to hear the same song, the same lyrics recorded in such radically different styles. I don’t know how else to describe the song other than, pure fun. Here are the tracks in all their glory:

I don’t know what this new song(s) portends but the world is always a better place when you’ve got some new Jack White to blast at maximum volume. I’m certainly hoping Jack and Santa put a new album in our stockings this December…

Cheers!

Review: The White Stripes ‘Greatest Hits’ – A Lovingly Curated Romp Through Their Career

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I sometimes wonder if I’d have ever discovered any new music after the turn of the millennium if I hadn’t met the Rock Chick. I could see myself today, twenty years down the road, still thinking Pearl Jam was the last great band to emerge. While she reconnected me with bands I was already into like AC/DC, Green Day and Motley Crue, she also brought me out of my rock and roll exile and turned me onto new bands as well. For a very brief time we had the illegal download site Limewire at our disposal. Limewire was like the early Napster, basic file sharing. It was the Rock Chick who downloaded Limewire… at first my response was, “You kids and your fancy apps,” but once I started finding rare, hard to find b-sides it was like giving an addict the keys to the pharmacy. I stopped and deleted Limewire after I heard R.E.M.’s Mike Mills say that Napster/Limewire was tantamount to going down the local record shop and shoplifting their latest CD. Michael Stipe said he didn’t care, but I still didn’t feel good about it. In my defense, I only used Limewire in the same way I use Spotify today – to discover new music and then immediately purchase the stuff I liked. Still, it wasn’t cool. And I realize the difference between Spotify and Limewire… I pay for Spotify.

It was late 2001 or maybe even early 2002 when I saw this strange band, it was just a duo actually, the White Stripes on the MTV video awards show, if my memory serves me (and it rarely does these days). They were the final live performance on the show and I recall a bunch of balloons fell on them or a bunch of people rushed the stage. I noticed there was a woman on drums. I was intrigued. I checked out what I’d heard were the hits – “Dead Leaves On the Dirty Ground” and “Fell In Love With A Girl.” At the time the rock intelligentsia were hailing a new era of “garage rock” (that never really materialized). After doing some discovery over on Limewire, I realized that maybe these White Stripes were what they were talking about. They not only rocked but they could go acoustic like they do on “We’re Going To Be Friends” a track that immediately resonated with me. I quickly went out and purchased what I soon found out was their third LP, White Blood Cells. I was immediately taken with these guys. It’s quite an album.

Jack White was the singer/guitarist/keyboardist and songwriter. He is one of the most gifted guitar players not only of his generation but perhaps ever. I kept extolling his amazing guitar skills to my a friend of mine. It wasn’t until he saw Jack solo that he started comparing him to Hendrix. I was like, dude, I’ve been talking about this guy for 15 years. The drummer, Meg White, who Jack was introducing as his sister at the time was actually his ex-wife. Jack said he came up with the “sister” thing to avoid any Fleetwood Mac type drama. Much has been made of Meg White’s cavewoman style of drumming but I think she’s fabulous. She hits those skins like she’s mad at ’em. Her very basic drumming is, in my opinion, what allowed Jack White to soar on guitar. They call what Social Distortion does, combining country influences with punk rock, “cow punk.” With the White Stripes there was real strong blues influence/vibe to go with the punk or garage rock ethos they had. At the time I was describing them as blues punk or punk blues, whichever you’re comfortable with. As longtime readers know, I love the blues so it was natural I’d love the White Stripes.

In early 2003 the Stripes dropped their fourth album Elephant. While White Blood Cells broke them to a wider audience, it was Elephant‘s first single, “Seven Nation Army” that really made them stars. It’s an epic rock track and it was literally everywhere. I bought that album the day it came out. That tour was to be my first time to see the White Stripes. On June 28th of 2003 they played this smallish hall over in Kansas City, Kansas… Memorial Hall. Oh my god they were absolutely fantastic that night. They had a big body guard in a three-piece suit escort them onto the stage. They opened with “Dead Leaves On The Dirty Ground” and from there they were off. Jack White hopped around the stage like a bunny on meth. He’d come to the front of the stage and sing and them bounce back to the drum kit where he and Meg would jam. I swear Meg was hitting the drums so hard she was levitating off her seat. Three or four tracks in they played a Dolly Parton track, “Jolene.” I turned the Rock Chick and said, “pinch me, am I dreaming?” At one point Jack pulled out a battered, old, grey wide body guitar and played the fiercest blues licks I’d ever heard. The track was “Death Letter,” a song I discovered the next day when I went out and bought their second – and in my opinion their best – album De Stijl. After that amazing show it’s a wonder I didn’t hang a poster of them on my wall like I was  junior high kid. 

Every two years they’d put out a new album and I would snap it up the day it came out. Both Get Behind Me Satan and Icky Thump were triumphs that saw them stretching out their trademark blues punk sound. I got to see them a second time on the Get Behind Me Satan tour, this time at the slightly larger venue, Starlight Theater. Jack was dressed as a matador. I was in the fifth row and its one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. They played over thirty songs that night. Seeing Meg White up close left me smitten… I’ve always been susceptible to rock and roll crushes. She didn’t sing at this show like she did the first time I saw them but she made her presence known. They had a very charismatic stage presence. 

Sadly, after Icky Thump the White Stripes didn’t tour extensively. They played a handful of shows at weird locations. I want to say they filmed it for a documentary I remember seeing late at night. It was said that Meg didn’t want to tour. She’d grown tired of the road. At the time she’d done a little modeling and had gotten married. I think the rock and roll life and being Jack’s sidekick had lost its allure. After releasing a great little gem of a live album Under Great Northern Lights the White Stripes called it quits. Meg has become reclusive. I have often said in these pages and it bears repeating – come back Meg, please. The world needs the White Stripes. I love what Jack does with the Raconteurs and solo but you’ll never find a band as purely bad ass as the White Stripes. 

I can’t believe it’s been 13 years since the White Stripes last studio album. I feel like the Stripes were big but as they never played the big arenas or stadiums I wonder how big they really were. I own every album they put out but how many people do? I fear that if you’re a little older you may have missed out on this supernova of a band. Jack White has put together what I can only describe as a lovingly curated collection of their “best of” on the newly released The White Stripes Greatest Hits. I don’t usually write about “greatest hits” packages but there are a lot of iconic ones out there. I think this album will be on that list of super greatest hits albums out there. If you aren’t a White Stripes fanatic like me, this Greatest Hits package is the perfect introduction to their catalog. I love that Jack spread the 26 tracks on this album evenly over their six studio records. Their debut The White Stripes which is a really raw and primal album – it’s so garage rocky that you can almost smell oil and gasoline when you play it – is represented with as many songs as Elephant or Icky Thump. This is truly a great retrospective look at their catalog. There are two tracks that weren’t on albums, “Jolene” and “Let’s Shake Hands.” 

I love that the set opens with “Let’s Shake Hands,” which in non pandemic times was what you did when you met someone. It’s like Jack saying, “nice to meet you.” The second track establishes these guys as Detroit rockers with “The Big Three Killed My Baby” from their debut. What a great start! The epic rocking big hits are all here like “Seven Nation Army” (that ends the album), “Icky Thump” and “Blue Orchid.” There are quieter acoustic moments like “We’re Going to Be Friends” and their trade mark bluesy romps like “Ball And A Biscuit,” “Death Letter” and “I Fought Piranhas.” It’s safe to say that everything the White Stripe do well is represented on this greatest hits package. Listening to it just brings it home. 

Again, if you missed these guys in the early 2000s or you never paused to pick up their albums this is the perfect way to start listening to the White Stripes. I literally own every single song on this package and you should to. This album would be a perfect primer for a college level Rock And Roll 101 class. Turn this one up loud. 

Cheers! 

LP Review: The Raconteurs’ (Jack White) ‘Help Us Stranger’

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“I’m here right now, I’m not dead yet…” – “Some Days I Don’t Feel Like Trying,” The Raconteurs

The new millennium saw a lot of changes occur in the world, well after we all shook off those Y2K fears. For me personally, I met the Rock Chick in 2000 which changed everything. The 90s had seen the rise and fall of Grunge, which I really liked. Grunge was really classic rock (Pearl Jam), punk (Nirvana) or hard rock (or metal in the case of Soundgarden) dressed in flannel, so naturally I gravitated toward it. It was better than all the synth, spandex and drum machine stuff that came out in the 80s, although my friend Doug would argue with me on that. But by the end of the last century Grunge had punched itself out, metaphorically speaking. Cobain sadly took his own life. By 1999-2000 Layne Staley had largely disappeared into heroin addiction. Soundgarden broke up after Down On the Upside. Only Pearl Jam was left standing, unscathed…revolving drummers aside. The music that had taken the world by storm had settled into an uneasy middle age.

Sadly with rock bands receding, the end of the 90s saw the rise of pop music to fill the void. Diva behemoths Brittney Spears and Christina Aguilera and their ilk ruled the world. Everywhere you turned you’d hear the Backstreet Boys or N’Sync or some other boy band… or was it N’Street and BackSyncBoys? I don’t know, I could never keep that shit straight. On my first date with the Rock Chick, I veered the conversation (as I usually do) toward music… you can’t be with someone with shitty musical taste, it’s against the laws of nature. I once broke up with a lovely woman because she liked Barry Manilow. On our first date the Rock Chick said, “I don’t know what’s up with music these days, all these crappy Boy Bands… whatever happened to Motley Crue or Van Halen or the Cult…” I think it was at that moment I may have fallen in love, but enough about me.

In the midst of all that awful pop music, starting around ’99 and running through ’02 there was a wave of these garage-rock type bands. Everywhere I turned I’d hear about this rock and roll revival. I was checking out bands like the Strokes or the Hives. I remember hearing about the White Stripes before I actually heard them. Finally the Rock Chick played “Dead Leaves On the Dirty Ground” and “Fell In Love With a Girl” for me. I couldn’t help but think, hmmm, that’s interesting. I remember the first time I saw them – not in concert, but on television – on the 2002 MTV Awards. All decked out in red and white. Jack White, manic on guitar/vocals with Meg White on drums (she was such a cavewoman on drums… love her). It was that moment the White Stripes clicked for me. I purchased White Blood Cells immediately.

I was so enamored with the White Stripes after that first purchase I did what I always do, I bought the entire back catalog… which at the time was only The White Stripes and my all time favorite Stripes record, De Stijl (a name which I’d venture to guess I’ve never pronounced correctly). They were garage rock and punk but there was blues in there too. They could go acoustic, which bands weren’t really doing any more, and be almost folky. I knew I’d found a band to connect to in this new wave of garage rockers. I thought then and continue to think, that Jack White is a genius. And of course knowing that he’s skilled in upholstering tends to help play into that.

I saw the White Stripes on the tour for their brilliant album Elephant in tiny Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas and it remains an all-time concert highlight for me. I was able to catch them again after the tour for Get Behind Me Satan at the Starlight Theater from the 6th row… and was thrilled they played “Jolene.” At this point, I was ready to build a shrine to the White Stripes in my backyard… Meg holding a fawn, Jack playing the guitar, both in togas, the whole Greek God treatment. But alas, things were not all smiles and roses in the White Stripes camp. Meg had started to distant herself from the big top.

With a bunch of pent up energy and no White Stripes project to work on, in 2006 Jack formed the Raconteurs with Brendan Benson (guitars/vocals), Jack Lawrence (bass), and Patrick Keeler (drums). I was excited to hear Jack White in a bigger band than the power duo he’d been playing with. There were more options for him. At the time vinyl was in short supply so I bought their debut album, Broken Boy Soldiers on CD. Alas, I ended up selling it. I loved “Steady As She Goes,” and the blues tune “Blue Veins,” but other than the song “Level” I didn’t really connect with the rest of the tracks on the album, it was too pop for me. It seemed somewhat slight in terms of the material. In prep for this post I went back and listened to it again… and it was a lot better than I remembered. It’s a solid record with three outstanding tracks in the mix.

In 2008, stuck waiting for Meg to do something in the studio after Icky Thump, White reconvened the Raconteurs for the sprawling Consolers Of The Lonely. I thought that record was flawed – I really liked about half the tracks on it – but it was a big leap forward from the debut record. They throw everything but the kitchen sink into this thing. It’s the exact album I thought Jack White would make outside the confines of the duo. I began to believe that the reason I liked only half the tracks was because I only like the Jack songs vs the Brendan songs but I think it’s more complicated than that. Jack is all id, he sounds unhinged at times. Then Brendan is like the superego, smoothly coming in and calming Jack into a nice harmonizing duo. When it worked it was spectacular. When it doesn’t, well it doesn’t.

Flash forward ten years from Consolers and I thought the Raconteurs were a footnote. Once the White Stripes officially “called it a day,” Jack launched a strong solo career. His first two albums are brilliant, Blunderbuss and Lazaretto are highly recommended. Unfortunately his last album, Boarding House Reach lost me (LP Review: Creativity And The Curious Case of Jack White & ‘Boarding House Reach’). I think we all know someone or work with someone who is so creative, whose approach to things is so out there, you just want to say to them once in a while, “think inside the box for a change.” That’s kind of where I think Jack White got to. It was time to return to the structure of a band instead of the free reign being a solo artist can bring. Enter his old pals, the Raconteurs.

I was really pleased when I put Help Us Stranger on the stereo and turned up the speakers. The first track is all garage rock guitars, building to a big opening track, “Bored and Razed.” This album feels tighter than Consolers, its as compact as Broken Boy but it packs more punch. And, as a vinyl enthusiast I must say I love that they put a fake needle skip at the front of the title track, just to fuck with us. The title track has an acoustic guitar riff punctuated with White’s lead guitar. I love the Benson/White harmonizing. “Somedays (I Don’t Feel Like Trying)” is another epic track with a long coda, quoted above. These guys are definitely not dead yet. “Only Child” is a great acoustic ballad also featuring the great harmonizing.

My favorite tracks remain the first two released, “Sunday Driver” is a track that runs through my brain multiple times a day and the epic blues of “Now That You’re Gone.” The Raconteurs are always good for one fabulous blues track. (Review: The Raconteurs’ Great New Single, Jack White’s Original Side Project Delivers!). “Shine the Light on Me” starts with an almost gospel piano and has a Beatlesque chorus. It’s really grown on me.

The album is not without some tracks that I didn’t connect with. “Don’t Bother Me” never quite comes together. “Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness)” is a Donovan cover complete with harmonica crunchy guitar and distorted vocals. I’ll admit the Raconteurs version is probably better than anything Donovan ever did… I know, I just don’t dig him but it’s a bit unhinged. Neither of these songs are bad, the band needs to let White to go off occasionally.

Overall I’d say this is the Raconteurs’ strongest complete album. It’s a great bookend with the Black Keys latest effort LP Review: The Black Keys Return With “Let’s Rock” – Yes, Indeed! to help book end your summer rock and roll. It’s all guitars and harmonies, many of which will bore into your brain. Just when I was worried rock was dead, another super rock record comes out. If nothing else, it’s great to hear Jack White get back to his usual top shelf form. “Not dead yet,” indeed!

Cheers!

 

Review: The Raconteurs’ Great New Single, Jack White’s Original Side Project Delivers!

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Other than car trouble, I can’t imagine anything worse than moving. Physically packing up all of your shit and putting it in boxes, loading it in the car and then unloading it at a new location is just awful. When I was younger and single, I didn’t have any possessions. I never wanted to own anything I couldn’t carry to the car in the middle of the night if I had to avoid the law or some angry woman. I have spent almost every weekend since early December doing just that, carrying stuff to the car. It’s tough work to crate up all these albums and barrels of bourbon… Add to it the miserable, grey, snowy, cold weather and you’ve got a “seasonal affect” depression diagnosis that writes itself. Luckily, my local football team, the Kansas City Chiefs have been winning, so that kept me afloat. In the midst of all of this tedious moving, the Rock Chick burst in and said, “I have to play you something.” There’s only one or two things she could say to me that would fill me with more joy and anticipation… and I can’t really discuss those here, it’s a family blog. Who else will teach the children about rock and roll?

Much to my great surprise, when the Rock Chick hit “play” I heard a burst of pure, energetic rock and roll guitar. To my great pleasure, the Raconteurs have returned! And here I was wondering if there’d be any new rock and roll to write about before spring. I try to stay positive here on B&V, so I rarely write about music I don’t like. I try to use this blog as a place where I can shed a little light on music that may not make it to your local radio that I feel deserves more attention. If you can discover something you like here, then my job is more than done! However, it’s no secret that I didn’t like Jack White’s last solo album LP Review: Creativity And The Curious Case of Jack White & ‘Boarding House Reach’. There’s a theory in history, known as the “great man theory,” that I actually think has some merit. It posits that history can be explained by the impact these so called “great men” had on the course of human events. I believe in this for rock and roll. And I think Jack White is certainly one of those great men. Unfortunately the experimentation and reaching for something completely different on Boarding House Reach left me cold. White had been on a hiatus prior to that release so that miss left quite a void.

I was frankly quite surprised to see that the Raconteurs had reunited. One has to look back over a decade to get to their founding. It was in 2006, in between the White Stripes’ Get Behind Me Satan and Icky Thump that Jack White, bursting with creativity, reached outside the power-duo outfit that made him famous for his first side project. White was on guitar and vocals and was joined by solo artist Brendan Benson (guitar, vocals) and former Greenhorns’ members Jack Lawrence (bass), and Patrick Keeler (drums). So full of music was Jack White he later formed a second side project, The Dead Weather, with Lawrence on bass and his main squeeze Alison Mosshart from the Kills on lead vocals. White actually played drums in that band, with a QOTSA veteran, Dean Fertita on guitar. White’s creativity truly seemed boundless.

But it’s been over a decade since the Raconteurs recorded anything. Back in the early part of this millennium, the Raconteurs released two albums. Broken Boy Soldiers, their 2006 debut was an interesting start. “Steady As She Goes” was a great lead single. “Blue Veins” was just a fabulous bluesy number. It was probably my favorite song on that album. But other than “Level,” there wasn’t much else on the record I could connect with. It sounded like old friends having a nice busmen’s holiday. By 2008’s Consolers of the Lonely, things had improved vastly. With Meg White becoming more reclusive, Jack turned a more serious eye toward his supergroup side project. That was a great record. I especially liked the “story song,” “Carolina Drama.” The mysterious ending…”go and ask the milkman” will always stick with me… There were so many great tunes on that record, “Salute Your Solution,” and “Top Yourself” spring to mind. Everyone should check out that second Raconteurs’ album.

So after a decade that found the members of the Raconteurs’ working on other things, they’ve reunited. Jack sounds enthused and re-energized on these tunes. The first new song is titled “Sunday Driver.” It’s a punchy, classic rocker. White’s solo’ing is off the charts. It has an almost Beatlesque, psychedelic bridge in the middle. The guitar riff is absolutely infectious. It’s muscular and frenetic rock and roll. To hear Jack rock out this freely is so refreshing. It’s nothing like the bizarre experiments of Boarding House Reach. 

The second track, “Now That You’re Gone,” is where things get really interesting. It’s a “my baby has left me, good riddance” tune. “What will I do, now that you’re gone…” It’s probably what my old neighbors are thinking about me now that I’ve moved… well, probably not. I tend to play loud music at odd hours… Anyway, “Now That You’re Gone” has got a wonderful burst of bluesy guitar that plays through out the song. This song sounds like a 60s girl group had a baby with an old bluesman. White is absolutely torturing his guitar through out this song, conjuring the pain and torment felt by a spurned lover. This is another home run of a track.

While the Raconteurs’ first record was a bit of a disappointment and the second one was strong, these two new tracks are just stellar. This could point to a very, very interesting album. Keep an eye and ear out for the Raconteurs. I highly recommend everyone purchase these songs immediately and play them as loud as your neighbors will allow.

Cheers!

LP Review: Creativity And The Curious Case of Jack White & ‘Boarding House Reach’

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“It’s no secret ambition bites the nails of success…” – “The Fly,” U2

Creativity has always been a fascinating thing to me. I’ve always been impressed by artists, not just rock and roll musicians, but all great artist’s ability to tap into some unlimited font of ideas. Whether it’s Hemingway digging deep for The Old Man And The Sea later in his career or Picasso mining his sorrow in World War II to come up with La Guernica it all fills me with awe (I do love that when asked by a fascist if he painted La Guernica Picasso was witty enough to say, “No, you did.”). Ideas seem to come to the masters from all sources. Johnny Carson famously said to another comedian, “You use everything you have for a laugh.” I’ve never been blessed with that wild creative gene. Yes, your intrepid B&V blogger did spend about a year once writing a novel. It was a great experience and very cathartic and I’m proud I finished it, but it wasn’t a very compelling read. However, I really enjoyed the process of creating. If I had more time and any decent ideas, I’d try again… but to repeat, I don’t have that great of an imagination.

When I look to rock and roll, there are so many examples of bands or artists who took creative risks or at the very least, creative left turns. For the most part, I can sit and listen to a majority of the bands I like and there seems to be a linear growth in the way they created their music. Musician’s playing and writing skills evolve in a fairly similar, straightforward way. But then you look at bands like the Beatles. You could argue their development was linear, but when you realize the same band who did “I Want To Hold Your Hand” also did “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite” merely four years later, it’s hard to call that growth “linear.” The Beatles developed and explored different sounds in an exponential way or perhaps it’s better described as an exploding sun, in every direction all at once. David Bowie is another example of an artist who consistently defied creative expectations and changed his sound… his theme song was “Changes,” for God’s sake. The guy went from Glam Rock (dressed as a sexually-ambiguous alien) to doing Philly Soul (with Luther Vandross on backing vocals, no less) to German ambient rock with Eno. Oddly for Bowie and the Beatles all these creative twists and turns just… worked. Wherever these ideas were coming from, they were all great. Ok maybe Bowie should have opted out of the duet with Jagger on “Dancing In The Streets.” The video still haunts me.

I have always subscribed to the “‘Great Man” theory of rock and roll, that there are certain great men or great artists who influence and shape the very genre of rock and roll. I have always considered Jack White to be one of those “greats.” White is a real dichotomy to me. On one hand, he’s an anachronism, which Webster defines as a person or thing that is chronologically out of place. His music has always been extremely rooted in the past. He is, in my mind, first and foremost a Bluesman. He ranks up there with Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Son House and Robert Johnson. His guitar playing and his whole ethos is bluesy. He also managed to embrace rock (like Hendrix) and a punk energy that singularly defined him as a “great” artist. His hobby is re-upholstering for God’s sake… who does that nowadays? I sometimes wonder if some day we’ll discover a photograph, similar to the shot of Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining, shot 50 years prior, of Jack White standing next Charley Patton… his pale white face framed with black hair, looking exactly the same as he does now, only in 1925.

On the other hand, opposite the anachronistic nature, is a quality in Jack White that can only be described as so futuristic that it causes me to occasionally wonder if he’s a space alien. The monochromatic, red/white theme he employed for the White Stripes was as futuristic as it was old-time. Is the upholstery hobby retro or possibly a sign he’s from another planet? For the most part in his career, White has followed  his muse more toward looking back to the blues or country for inspiration. Not so on Boarding House Reach. White’s new album is nothing short of a Martian Dance Party. He throws everything AND the kitchen sink into each song… And this leads me back to creativity. I applaud any artist’s willingness and ability to challenge himself and to take a creative left turn. The courage and the imagination should be applauded. Jack took four years off between records, to spend more time with his young children and clearly he wanted to do something grand on his return to recording. I am sad to say, it just didn’t work.

For the most part, White takes the typical structure of songs, verse-chorus-verse-chorus, and throws that out the window. There are a few spoken word pieces that don’t jell at all, like “Abulia and Akrasia.” There’s a song that sounds like an angry White is screaming into a megaphone…”Everything You’ve Ever Learned” that is the most puzzling thing the man has ever done. Towards the beginning of the album there’s a trio of songs, “Corporation,” “Hypermisophonic,” and “Ice Station Zebra” where so many sounds are colliding and firing in different directions, the songs are rendered unlistenable. “Corporation” sounds like a bad demo of Prince and the New Power Generation. In “Hypermisophonic,” the chorus “when you’re robbing a bank,” keeps getting repeated until you’re ready for the cops to show up and arrest the robbers. “Ice Station Zebra” has a jazzy feel but it’s a jazz that might get played by that bar band in the cantina scene from the original Star Wars. 

“Get In The Mind Shaft” has a robotic-vocal effect that makes me wonder if Jack will release a video of himself actually dancing “the Robot.” “Esmerelda Steals the Show” is an acoustic number that turns out to be an “anti-cell phone at the show” number… It’s message was clear, it’s music was not. “Respect Commander” and “Over and Over and Over” at least have a decent guitar riff… well, at least to start off with. Both songs take weird, alien keyboard twists.

The opening track, “Connected By Love,” reviewed earlier on B&V (Review: Jack White’s Two New Songs) is probably, while different, the most accessible song here. He also does a nice country weeper, “What’s Done Is Done” towards the end. The other song I enjoyed was “Humoresque,” an odd, acoustic lullaby that closes things down. Other than those three tracks, I’m not sure I can find anything to connect with on this album. Gone are the great guitar solos or even the great guitar riffs. I like Jack on keyboards, but here he mostly employs synths and weird, computer sounding keys. There’s very little on this record that sounds organic, something I’ve always found on White’s previous work.

White decided to record this album with an all new backing band. In many cases he went to the studio musicians who’d been used by various hip-hop artists. I applaud the idea, but for whatever reason it just didn’t come together. Every time I put this album on the Rock Chick runs from the room. It’s hard to tell a genius like Jack White, hey man, you made a bad album. I rarely write anything negative, there are enough haters out there. If I don’t like an album, I just stay mum about it… I try to shed light on good things people should go check out… White is such an important artist, in my mind anyway, I felt I had to weigh in here. I followed Jack from The White Stripes to The Raconteurs to The Dead Weather to his solo work. I imagine I will continue to follow his creative forays, whatever direction they take him for as long as he keeps going. I just can’t, in good conscience, recommend this album. This is clearly a case where an artist’s creative grasp exceeded his reach… maybe I’m not smart enough, but I just don’t get it…

I think I speak for everyone when I say, sincerely… Meg White… wherever you are… Please come back!

 

Review: Jack White’s Two New Songs

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I have posited many times in these pages that most of the music I like springs from the blues. No matter how far away the music gets from the blues, I can still hear the seeds of where the music came from… and that’s the Mississippi Delta or the south side of Chicago. The blues was the first musical form to popularize the guitar solo, where the solo and the style of playing were as important as the singer. Knowing this, it was with great confidence that the Rock Chick strolled into my office in 2001 and said, “I have something you’re really going to like…” She played me the White Stripes White Blood Cells. It was love at first listen. It was punk, it was blues, it was blues punk or was it punk blues. I can only say for certain, it was rock and roll. I purchased their first two albums, The White Stripes and De Stijl immediately.

It wasn’t until the 2003 tour for Elephant that I first got to see the White Stripes live in concert. I was lucky enough to see them in Kansas City’s tiny Memorial Hall, over in KCK (Kansas City, Kansas) which seats a mere 3500 people. There isn’t a bad seat in that tiny, ancient building… well unless you’re behind a steel girder. Jack and Meg White came out and lit the place on fire. Meg was primal and fierce on the drums. Jack was relentless on guitar, hopping around the stage like a frog on a hot stove. He brought out this wide-body, grey guitar that looked like it’d lost a fight and tortured it through the blues cut “Death Letter” and I reached blues rock Nirvana. I was totally blissed out at that show. He covered blues legend Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down” and finished the encore with Lead Belly’s “Boll Weevil.” I never missed them on tour after that and I own every album the White Stripes put out.

Now, it’s important to state that I’ve also always felt that there are certain individuals who are critically important to rock and roll. Their impact is artistically important. You can say that about Elvis, Bob Dylan, pick a Beatle (except Ringo, I mean, I love Ringo, he’s a beautiful soul and a capable drummer, but…), Mick or Keith, Bowie, Neil Young, or more recently Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder. I truly believe Jack White is one of those people. He plays guitar, keyboards, drums, bass and sings. He also produces, writes songs and owns his own, very vinyl-centric record company, Third Man Records. He’s like a white Sam Cooke. Jack is such a contradiction to me… part old soul/blues guy, part futuristic space alien.

Feeling that Jack White is an important figure in rock and roll has led me to follow him through all the different things he’s done. I always try to keep an eye on him… I followed the White Stripes religiously. I also followed his side-project, the Raconteurs through both Broken Boy Soldiers and after the Stripes had broken up, Consolers of the Lonely. Although, I always felt the Raconteurs were more a “buy by the song vs buy by the album” group. I only like the Jack White songs, but especially “Carolina Drama.” I even followed Jack to the Dead Weather, where he was predominantly a drummer. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit it was the Rock Chick who led me there. I even bought the album he produced for Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose. When Meg decided she’d had enough and the White Stripes disbanded, I followed Jack White’s solo career through not only Blunderbuss and Lazaretto but I sought out the various B-sides he released with the singles from those albums. They fell into two categories, the amazing songs that I still wonder why they didn’t make the album, like “Inaccessible Mystery” to the weirdly experimental, like say, “Blues On Two Trees.” While I love Jack’s solo work, I think I speak for the entire planet when I say, Meg, come home… all is forgiven. We miss you on drums…

I was delighted late last year when I read that Jack was in the studio recording a follow-up to Lazaretto. I had heard that after that record, White had taken a break to spend time with his daughter. Good on him for that. But it’s been four years and the world of rock just needs a new Jack White album. Last week he released two tracks from the upcoming album, “Connected By Love” and “Respect Commander.” While I felt Blunderbuss was an extension of what Jack was doing with the White Stripes, only with less primal drumming and additional instrumentation, Lazaretto found him stretching out sonically. I was intrigued to hear what was next.

The first new track, “Connected By Love,” at first listen was this crazy, psychedelic gospel benediction to love. The track starts off with an electronic pulse, and I thought perhaps Jack was headed off in a further direction from Lazaretto. But upon further listens, I realized this track wouldn’t have been out of place on either album. Jack’s lyrics are a plea to an ex or a future ex lover. The song stays sonically mellow until the middle where an organ solo that Steve Winwood would envy kicks in. It leads into a distorted, albeit melodic guitar solo. I like this track a lot but it’s a curious first single. It certainly opens up the sonic palette that Jack is working with. After three or four listens, the track just bloomed for me…

The second new track is an interesting little piece called “Respect Commander.” At first, I thought this was going to be another instrumental track like say, “High Ball Stepper.” Jack doesn’t sing until after the 2:10 mark in the song. And then it’s a distorted, multi tracked vocal. I didn’t like this track as much as “Connected By Love,” but I will admit it ends with a searing guitar solo. The guitar work at the end is certainly worth the price of admission, but with Jack, that’s usually the case. This song called to mind some of the more experimental B-sides I’ve heard from him, like the previously mentioned “Blues On Two Trees,” vs an actual track that makes an album. This might mean White is taking a wide-open, anything goes approach to this record…

What does this mean for the upcoming album? With these two diametrically different songs, it’s hard to say. I will state, emphatically, it’s nice to see Jack back in action. We need more rock and roll geniuses, especially now that Bowie gone. I look forward to hearing the entire new album. I would highly recommend “Connected By Love.” Give it a few listens before making a judgment. “Respect Commander” is one of those tracks for the true Jack White believers… like B&V…

Cheers!

 

“City Lights” – Single From The White Stripes/Jack White “Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016”

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As anybody whose read B&V before knows, I’m a huge fan of archival releases. If an artist has anything in the vault, I’m typically interested. Be it Bob Dylan’s official “Bootleg” releases, Springsteen’s “Tracks” or Van Morrison’s “Philosopher’s Stone,” count me in. Sometimes there’s a hidden gem in there, something the artist for whatever odd reason decided not to release. Maybe it didn’t fit the album it was recorded for. Musicians, what are you gonna do? If there’s a rare B-side tucked away in there, count me in…”what? there’s an acoustic demo with a saxophone… shit I’ve gotta have that.” I think the thing that draws me in the most when an artist opens up the vaults and releases stuff from their archives is that it many times provides an insight into their creative process. Of course, the Rock Chick says I’m just a obsessive compulsive “completist.” Which, sadly, may also be true.

With that as a backdrop, it probably comes as no surprise that when I heard Jack White was releasing something called “Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016” that I’d be forced to investigate. I’m a huge Jack White fan. I think of the White Stripes as one of the really great bands of all time. Their fusion of punk and blues was something I didn’t think was possible. I was lucky enough to see them on the “Elephant” tour (and several others) and Jack White simply amazed me with his energy and his lead guitar/keyboards/vocals. I had a buddy who saw him on his last solo tour and he compared it to seeing Hendrix (not that my buddy ever saw Hendrix, but he was that impressed with Jack’s guitar playing)… high praise indeed. I even followed Jack to the Raconteurs but I was only really interested in the tracks where he was the lead singer. “Steady As She Goes,” and “Blue Veins” from the first album and “Carolina Drama” from their second record stand out amongst his best. The Rock Chick dug the Dead Weather where Jack supposedly only played drums, and did some limited vocals, and I liked those tunes too. Jack is so charismatic that he’s going to pull the focus in any band he’s in.

With all that guitar hero talk it’s often easy to forget that the White Stripes and Jack’s solo stuff also has a strong acoustic element. “Hotel Yorba” and “We’re Going to Be Friends” immediately spring to minds as Stripes’ classics. “Love Interruption” has some nice acoustic work over some groovy keyboards. After thinking about those tunes, the whole “Acoustic Recordings” concept started to make sense to me.

The album isn’t released until September 9th but I’ve perused the song list. Unless these are all “alternative” versions, the songs on disc one mostly look like previously released songs. Meaning this is just a way of packaging up the acoustic stuff, no revelations to be found. The second disc looks like it has more acoustic demo/alternative mix stuff on it. We’ll just have to wait and see when the disc comes out.

However, until that time, we do have one song, billed to The White Stripes and Jack White that has been released, “City Lights.” I didn’t recognize the song but Jack was kind enough to add “Previously Unreleased” to the title to help tip me off it was something from the vaults. It’s all acoustic guitar and Jack singing in a minor falsetto. There is some light percussion, but I don’t know (based on the dual billing White Stripes/Jack White) if that is the mysterious Meg White playing the shaker? Call it my Sunday night mood, but there is something about Jack’s acoustic strumming on this song that recalls Led Zeppelin III but that may be the wine talking… It’s a quiet number that finds Jack in a somber mood. It is heavy on their folksy side, perhaps that’s what made me think of the acoustic side of Zeppelin… I almost wonder if this is a plea to Meg to return to the band when he sings, “every move suspends an action, any attempt to engage will push away, what you want becomes a magnet, opposing poles, never meeting.”  I love the imagery of the singer being on a plane headed toward someone… powerful stuff.

“City Lights” is a very good song from Jack White. It makes me hope there are some more alternative mixes/versions on “Acoustic Recordings” to explore. I certainly have something to look forward to on September 9th now…

Cheers!