During a recent trip to the record store, Jack White’s blistering single “Sixteen Saltines” came on over the loud-speaker. A hip-hop fan browsing through the latest run of mixtapes took notice:
“Who is this, Hendrix or somebody?” he asked the clerk.
“Um… no. That’s Jack White bro,” the clerk responded.
Then, with equal parts astonishment and respect, the hip-hop fan proclaimed, “Damn. That’s one bad white boy!”
Even hip-hop fans know how good Jack White is. Which makes what he’s been doing the past few years – forming bands with talented artists who aren’t as talented as him and producing records everyone from Wanda Jackson to Insane Clown Posse – slightly puzzling.
Perhaps it was the need for a new challenge after The White Stripes. Maybe he was bored. Either way, he’s found thankfully found a new muse – going solo and being as badass as he wants to be.
White’s solo album Blunderbuss is the best album he’s put out since Elephant, The White Stripes 2003 masterpiece. And it’seasily the best album of 2012 thus far.
The album is a mix of rock, folk and country music. White moved his label Third Man Records to Nashville in 2009 and has spent the past couple years focused on producing. The city’s influence is apparent.
Much of the album is filled with country soul and folk-influenced songs like “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy,” “I Guess I Should Go To Sleep” and the self-discovery anthem “On And On And On.”
Much of it is reminiscent of the quieter moments from The White Stripes’ records. You even get White opening up a bit about what his recent divorce from British model Karen Elson. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know what “Love Interruption” or “Hypocritical Kiss” are about. Interestingly enough, his voice sounds a bit like Axel Rose on the latter.
However, the standouts moments come during the limited number of times White picks up the electric guitar. But make no mistakes. When he does go electric, it’s to forcefully chop down mountains with the edge of his hand.
“Freedom at 21” is a guitar-driven monster that sounds like vintage The White Stripes, while the shredding towards the end of “Weep Themselves To Sleep” comes a mesmerizing surprise. And of course, there’s the in your face nature of “Sixteen Saltines,” the most straightforward rock track on the album.
Blunderbuss doesn’t break any new ground for White. It serves more as a collection of variations on the best stuff he’s done over the past decade, which is to say it’s awesome.
At 36 years-old, White is an old soul and, yet, the kind of artist who seems so far ahead of his peers anytime he comes out with something new. Indeed, he’s one badass white boy. And don’t you forget it.
~ Troy L. Smith