Music Reviews
3:46 pm
Tue June 10, 2014

From Jack White, A Fierce New Record Raised In Captivity

Originally published on Tue June 10, 2014 7:31 pm

A lazaretto is a place of quarantine, where sick people or tainted objects are sequestered from the general population. It's easy to see how an artist might apply this to himself — especially someone like Jack White, who projects eccentricity and shrouds himself in mystery. His first solo album was the sound of heartbreak. His second, the new Lazaretto, feels more like isolation.

From staccato arrangements to splashy cymbal crashes and explosive guitar soloing, many of the hallmarks of White's sound are on his new album in abundance. Most of all, he continues to refine his ability to dig deep into old music and come up with something fresh, as he does here with a reimagining of Blind Willie McTell's 1928 song "Three Women Blues."

White started out as an arty garage rocker, rising to fame in the late 1990s with The White Stripes, but over the years, an increasing amount of twang has wrapped itself around his fuzz-toned guitars like a creeping vine. He's produced artists like Loretta Lynn and dedicated himself to preserving American roots music. On his new album, he takes a wildly creative approach to this aesthetic: Rather than just drop stringed instruments into a rock song, he manipulates sound itself, working backwards pedal steel and a howling violin that says more than lyrics ever could into the instrumental "High Ball Stepper."

Whether he's producing, leading a band or performing as a solo artist, White continues to evolve with each project, and Lazaretto fits nicely into the arc of his career. It's bold, impressionistic and sometimes demanding. There's enough ferocity to keep fans of his short, sharp early work hanging in there, and enough inventiveness to attract new ones.

Maybe it takes some degree of isolation to create a spectacular record like this one. Or maybe White is so busy that quarantine is something he only dreams of. Either way, the result is worth your attention.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The title singer-songwriter doesn't quite capture it all when you're talking about Jack White. He gained fame in the late '90s with his band The White Stripes. Since then, he started a record label, produced artists including Loretta Lynn, he's won eight Grammys and dedicated himself to preserving American roots music. Now today he's out with his second solo album, it's titled "Lazaretto". And Meredith Ochs has our review.

MEREDITH OCHS, BYLINE: A lazaretto is a place of quarantine, where sick people or tainted objects are sequestered from the general population. It's easy to see how an artist might apply this to himself, especially someone like Jack White, who projects eccentricity and shrouds himself in mystery. His first solo album was the sound of heartbreak. This one feels more like isolation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALONE IN MY HOME")

JACK WHITE: (Singing) And alone, I build my own home to be sure that nobody can touch me now. Yeah, all alone in my home, alone in my home. Nobody can touch me. All alone in my home, alone in my home nobody can touch me.

OCHS: Staccato arrangements, splashy cymbal crashes, explosive guitar soloing. Many of the hallmarks of Jack White's sound are on his new album in abundance. Most of all, White continues to refine his ability to dig deep into old music and come up with something fresh, like he does with this re-imagining of Blind Willie McTell's 1928 song, "Three Women Blues."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THREE WOMEN")

WHITE: (Singing) Well, I'm lonely at night, but I stay up until the break of day. Yeah, I'm lonely at night, but I stay up until the break of day. How come I got to have a woman to blow these bruise away. Yeah, all right, I said, Lordy Lord, Lordy Lord, Lordy Lord...

OCHS: Jack White started out as an arty garage rocker, but over the years, an increasing amount of twang has wrapped itself around his fuzz-toned guitars like a creeping vine. On his new album, he takes a wildly creative approach to this. White doesn't just drop stringed instruments into a rock song. He manipulates the sound with backwards pedal steel and a howling violin that says more than lyrics ever could on this instrumental.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HIGH BALL STEPPER")

OCHS: Whether he's producing, leading a band or performing as a solo artist, Jack White continues to evolve with each project. And this new album fits nicely into the arc of his career. It's bold, impressionistic and demanding of your attention. There's enough ferocity to keep fans of his short, sharp early work hanging in there, and enough inventiveness to attract new ones.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAZARETTO")

BLOCK: You can watch Jack White showcase his new album live in concert tonight on npr.org. Our reviewer, Meredith Ochs, is a talk-show host and DJ at Sirius XM radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAZARETTO")

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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