Third Man Records
Those waiting for Jack White to slip up and reveal himself as just another fallible musician capable of making a false step are in for a world of disappointment because his debut effort, Blunderbuss, is one of the most consistently GREAT albums he’s ever made. With 10 major league albums spread across three bands (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather) under his color-coordinated belt, that’s saying something.
And why make a solo record NOW, anyway? Even with the breakup of The White Stripes, he’s spinning many plates. His other bands are on again/off again like a senior semester teenaged couple, he’s got the Third Man Records juggernaut (record store/concert venue/label/studio), and as a record producer he’s added his touch to everyone from Wanda Jackson to Insane Clown Posse (you read that right). When did he find time to sleep, let alone to whip up a solo venture?! Like most good things, it was all a bit of an accident. The word according to White, and as a notorious word spinner it must be taken with a grain of salt, is that he started jamming with some session players who would otherwise have been sent home after a cancelled recording date with RZA. Thus the kernels of Blunderbuss were born.
What does it sound like? There’s the signature Jack White guitar sound, sure, but he only pulls it out and flaunts it on a few occasions, most notably on the instant classic “Sixteen Saltines,” the most radio-friendly rock song White has made since “Seven Nation Army.” The blues rock opener “Missing Pieces” could be a lost White Stripes track, and his cover of Detroit R&B artist LIttle Willie John’s “I’m Shakin” keeps one foot firmly planted in the blues, where we know he sits so comfortably, but even that track is more funky soul than deep bayou blues.
On the whole it’s as if White peeled off a few layers of guard, not only penning some revealing songs about love, infidelity, and loneliness, but setting them to melodies that center largely around pianos and acoustic guitars. The first single, “Love Interruption” (a duet with back up singer Ruby Amanfu that’s reminiscent of Robert Plant’s project with Alison Krauss, Raising Sand), comes right out and lays it all bare.
I want love to/ Roll me over slowly/ Stick a knife inside me/ And twist it all around… I won’t let love disrupt corrupt/ Or interrupt me –from “Love Interruption”
Rather than wield his electric like hot wire, the pace of this record feels much more relaxed. Take off your shoes and have a seat on the front porch, songs like “Blunderbuss,” “On and On and On,” and the gypsy jazz “I Guess I Should Go To Sleep” seem to invite. Even the wider cast of musicians involved is a relaxed move for the notorious control-freak, White. Two bands were put together for this project — one all female, one all male. While on the album, the players mix (Raconteurs’ Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler are among the guests), on the road the two bands will take turns joining White onstage each night.
“Freedom at 21,” an angry funk jam — with a signature Jack solo — about imagined violence on a modern-day technology-obsessed gadget-carrier, is an anthem for anyone who’s ever wanted to snap at stranger obsessed with texting, talking, tweeting, or doing whatever the hell it is they do instead of living. Channeling anger in a completely opposite direction, the piano ballad with a mandolin to keep the mood light, “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy,” could be White’s veiled reaction to Meg White’s decision to break up The White Stripes.
So I got into the game/ But always keep it the same/ And I’ll be using your name…. And you’ll be watching me, girl/ Taking over the world/ Let the stripes unfurl/ Gettin’ rich singin’ poor boy/ poor boy… –from “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy”
Closing out Blunderbuss is a two-for-one track, “Take Me With You When You Go.” The song starts as a lounge-y piano and fiddle tune, but two minutes in takes a pause and a sharp turn into big Rock. The familiar electric guitar tone kicks in, the pace picks up, and the final minute of the song — and album — mash together the White we know and the White who’s just now taking off his hat and introducing himself to us.
Jack White: jackwhiteiii.com