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CD Review: Jack White’ Blunderbuss

by on April 25, 2012

by Bernard Perusse, Postmedia News April 24, 2012

Jack White | Blunderbuss | (Third Man/ Columbia) | Rating: five stars

From the first verse of “Missing Pieces,” the instant classic that opens Jack White’s first solo album, Blunderbuss, a feeling immediately sets in that this might be his mission statement. the song connects in a way that’s both fresh and ancient — much like the first time you heard The White Stripes.

Except for one thing: The White Stripes never made an album with as much scope and consistency as this. Blunderbuss leaves White’s other projects and collaborations — impressive as they might have been — in the dust: it’s deeper than the Stripes, farther-reaching than The Raconteurs and more melodically satisfying than The Dead Weather. On this disc, White draws the line from Lead Belly to late-60s garage bands to Nirvana and never sounds like anyone but himself.

It’s easy to get sidetracked from what White has set out to do, given such distractions as the self-mythologizing, alternative personal histories, secret passages to his recording studio, obsession with vinyl and mandatory colour schemes for the clothes worn by his employees. (If you’re curious, though, his obsessions were recently chronicled at length in a fascinating article in the New York Times Magazine.) But consign that to the “mildly amusing” file and focus on the music. Once that leap is made, you realize that none of White’s contemporaries have the untutored scholarity, anarchic instincts and respect for tradition that fills his work.

And never has that been so evident as it is on this astonishing disc.

White has said in recent interviews that he had two reasons for choosing Columbia to distribute the album instead of handling the release entirely through his own Third Man label. Apart from Columbia’s ability as a major player to publicize the music and get it to the right places, he said, he saw the label as a blue-chip institution with a proud history that includes some of his heroes, like Robert Johnson and Bob Dylan.

This recording brings with it the hope that White himself might, one day, be included in that Hall of Fame.

The dynamics on Blunderbuss reveal a scope White has only hinted at so far in his career. Piano and acoustic guitar are at least as prominent as his trademark distorted-guitar stuttering, which is best represented here in the majestic “Weep Themselves to Sleep” and the twin-axe solo in “Freedom at 21.” Country and blues, White’s stylistic vehicles in the “Goodnight Irene” rewrite “I Guess I Should Go to Sleep,” live right next door to the blasting Kinks chords of “Sixteen Salteens.” The main riff in “Love Interruption” is carried by Emily Bowland’s clarinet work, while Fats Kaplin’s haunting pedal steel guitar elevates the title track, a kissing cousin of Bob Dylan’s “Isis.”

As one would expect, White’s primitivist instincts are front and centre. Look elsewhere for Auto-Tune, Pro Tools and drum programming: White and his studio collaborators are flesh-and-blood musicians playing real instruments. And if they make real mistakes, all the better.

Isn’t that what ultimately gets you into the Hall of Fame?

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