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CD Shorts: Jack White

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Lazaretto

(Third Man)

Jack White’s music runs a weird gamut, from Led Zeppelin-esque rock to a heavy-hitting brand of Motown and low-key acoustic Americana. There are threads that surface regularly, and they’re highly successful. One is a big, overdriven guitar sound employed in classic-rock style, delivering single-note parts instead of chords. It lends his work an infectious rhythmic quality and an undercurrent of funk. In tunes using that strategy, the guitar solos are often pleasantly weird affairs in which he coaxes unexpected noises from his six-string, no mean feat in a time when electric guitar long seems to have been exploited in every way possible. It’s the guitar-centric songs on White’s Lazaretto that are likeliest to get stuck in your head.

The album opens with a double dose of them, then heads for more laid-back acoustic territory, though uptempo works still make frequent appearances. It’s in the acoustic realm that White’s lesser moments arrive. They’re still effective songs, but after the sound and fury that he navigates so well, these country-tinged departures feel more like genre tributes than White’s most distinctively White-esque works.

The album is an interesting voyage: the arrival of a new song can bring any kind of sound or instrumentation, and nearly everything gets off to an unusual start, even if it settles into a more expected vein. A high point is “High Ball Stepper,” which feels at first like another heavy guitar setting for White’s quaky voice, but instead stays instrumental, mixing up a cocktail of fuzz and a high-pitched siren-call hook produced by an unidentifiable instrument.

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