Monday, May 7, 2012


Do we get a White Stripes album?  The Dead Weather?  Raconteurs?  Or did White reinvent himself again, this time as a solo guy?  The latter, of course.  Moving and dodging, a musical rope-a-dope, that's been part of White's game from the start.  For his first solo disc, White comes up with a new sound, or rather builds on his old blocks, making sure nobody mistakes this for the Stripes or anything else.

There's no muddy or loud blues, unless you count his spot-on cover of Little Willie John's I'm Shakin', more of a R'n'B number anyway.  What's more surprising is the melding of his previous work with a much larger pallet of sounds.  Now happily settled in Nashville, he teams with several players from that scene, as well as some friends from other projects (no Meg though).  The Nashville influence, or at least his new framework, is heard in his acceptance of all sorts of instruments into the blend.  There's nothing too surprising, just more of them, like lots of piano, violin, mandolin and peddle steel, and there's more of a band vibe going on, at least a bigger band.  Odd that for his first with just his name on the sleeve, the sound far outstrips any of the other group projects he's worked on.

You get lots of his guitar on some songs, but it's certainly not an electric guitar album.  Some songs feature acoustic primarily, the lead taken by the piano or violin.  There's loud ones, and softer ones too;  surprisingly diverse it has the big blues-rock guitar workouts you might expect, but lots of not-heavy, melodic numbers, such as the jaunty shuffle of Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy, with its baroque piano intro and extro.  His high-pitched voice on the quiet songs can sound a bit like Robert Plant, and with the folk and old-time references White has, plus the mix of really loud and more melodic, Zep becomes a good reference point, another band that ripped open the borders of the blues in their time.

Lyrically, this is a study in girl-and-guy dynamics, at their most polarized.  There are some downright nasty moments, lots of rancor between the sexes, White defying the idea that we can all be friends in this show.  Friendly perhaps, but his characters at least are engaged in a blood sport.  Throughout, both have their cruel moments, and nobody is winning, only surviving.

Already one of the most interesting and elusive personalities of the century, White continues to move forward with energy, and interesting ideas.  The most enjoyable part of this record is how different it is through the thirteen tracks, White now willing to throw all his tricks into an album, rather than working within the limits of whatever band he's fronting.  For those missing the White Stripes, you'll need to grow a bit for this disc, but it's all good.

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