With his second solo album, “Lazaretto,” out Tuesday (10), Jack White continues on his exploration of American music. For all his talk of condemning others for being musical magpies, he proves to be quite one himself on the set: Whether he’s recalling Howling Wolf or The Band or even Lynyrd Skynrd, it’s easy to trace the new creation back to its musical forbearers.
Where White’s true talent lies is that he’s able to assimilate so many different styles into his music. “Lazaretto” works also most as two different albums: there are the gentle country-influenced acoustic tracks and the feral, primal, razor-edged electric tunes and he sells both of them with equal conviction. For the most part, both tread the same lyrical band: a sense of isolation that, in some cases, quietly creeps in and other times, announces its arrival with unrestrained howls.
As acclaimed a guitarist as White is, much of the album relies on stellar keyboard work. White sounds more comfortable here than he did on 2012’s “Blunderbuss.” The stylistic shifts may be jarring for some, but fans of White’s should be pretty used to his ability to be a Jack (White) of all trades by now.
Below is a track-by-track review:
“Three Women”: Sounding like a cross between The Band, Dr. John, and Lynyrd Skynyrd on this barrel-house piano blues rocker, White brags about the three women in his life who come visit him every night. Sure, it’s a big confusing keeping everyone happy, but he seems to be juggling just fine. It’s a fine, high energy kick off to the album: GRADE: B+
“Lazaretto”: Frenetic, jerky, fuzzy track that’s all about White’s kinetic electric guitar work and his jagged vocal delivery. Full of bleeps and effects, and an unexpected fiddle break, the title track is the album’s most lacerating track. GRADE: B
“Temporary Ground”: A beautiful, country-tinged acoustic track that examines a God that would leave here letting us believe we’ve found a safe haven when we’re really only on temporary ground. “All the creatures have it hard now/Nothing but God is left to know/ Why he left us all here hanging with an illusion of a home,” White sings as he trades lyrics with Lillie Mae Rische. A gorgeous alt-country tune that brings in acoustic guitars, fiddles, mandolin and pedal steel, while still sounding contemporary (with a nod back to very, very early Elton John). GRADE: A-
“Would You Fight For My Love”: “I’m getting better at becoming a ghost,” White declares on this mid-tempo, dense track about getting shattered by love. Lyrically, he’s most vulnerable than we usually hear him. Musically, he’s all over the map here from new wave to operatic background singers to screeching guitars. It’s a very busy tune and instead of his vocals sounding interesting, he just sounds like a David Byrne wanna be. GRADE: B-
“High Ball Stepper”: An woozy, psychedelic instrumental track that lets White show off his guitar chops and serves as a palate cleanser between the first and second halves of “Lazeretto.” GRADE: B-
“Just One Drink”: Straight-ahead country rocker that would have sounded right at home on a Georgia Satellites album. He loves her, but she doesn’t love him…same old story told in a familiar, but still refreshing way. GRADE: B+
“Alone In My Home”: Genial alt country track with White singing in a straight ahead style that we don’t normally hear. He’s once again broken and he again, as in “Would You Fight For My Love,” references becoming a ghost “so nobody can known me.” As jaunty as the playful piano may be, the lyrics are about isolating and escaping pain. GRADE: B
“Entitlement”: The alt country roll continues on this track that crosses Wilco with the Jayhawks. Lyrically he takes on those who can “take like Caesar and nobody cares” and how, despite being one of the entitled ones, he can’t quite do the same. “Stop what you’re doing and get back in line/I hear this from people all the time,” he bemoans. It’s a damned-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t song set to a nice mandolin that comes to a nice resolution. GRADE: B-
“That Black Bat Licorice”: A slinky, creeping track that finds White rhyming names like Columbo and Dumbo (the NYC neighborhood, not the baby elephant) in a trippy/, shape-shifting tune. Weird but it somehow works. GRADE: B-
“I Think I Found The Culprit”: “Birds of a feather may lay together/but the uglier one is always under the gun,” White sings as love and betrayal takes on the form of two birds on a windowsill. GRADE: B
“Want and Able”: White ends the album with a sloping, country parable that sounds very much like a Avett Brothers track: Want is never satisfied and always looking for more, while Able is the freedom to carry out our desires. GRADE: B