Lazaretto, Jack White, Third Man/XL Recordings/Columbia
There are a lot of words on Lazaretto, Jack White’s new solo album, about needing control or needing to relinquish it. They’re tightly wound and threaten to wrest your attention from the music. This is not a bad thing, as his music seems to be going through an uncomfortable relationship with respectability. Sometimes it’s tightly argumentative, weirdly superstructured, assertive in not wanting to be understood too easily. Sometimes it relaxes into pre-existing Americana hyphenates — blues-rock, country-rock, energies closer to what certain adult listeners hold up as “real music.” The less real White is, the better he sounds.
His narrators want to control the outcomes of their actions, until they don’t. In Just One Drink, “Well I love you, honey/but honey, why don’t you love me?” Then, in That Black Bat Licorice, “Don’t you want to lose the part of the brain that has opinions?” They can endorse both impulses in the same line: There is an image of “screaming without sound,” an assertion that “when I say nothing I say everything.” A man wants to express his will, but sometimes his will is to disappear. “I’m getting better at becoming a ghost,” White cries, in Would You Fight for My Love?
For 15 years, through his time in the White Stripes and after, White has trained us to hear him in restricted spaces, with restricted tools: a distorted hook, a stomp, a charged but imperfect vocal take, a lyric slogan working in the service of sound, a hectic and splattered guitar solo. He still does all that here — especially in the title song, which compresses a strong riff, a pause, a rhythm change and two 16-bar solos into three-and-a-half minutes; and the instrumental High Ball Stepper, which gathers all the best of him minus his impatient singing voice.
But there is an increasing sense — continued from his previous album, Blunderbuss — that he has a wary interest in loosening those restrictions. His sound, rendered by a changeable circle of musicians, is expanding and reconfiguring. From loudest to quietest, you can now hear electric-guitar explosions, thundered piano chords, fiddles, pedal steel, harmonica, mandolin and harp. And at the same time, perhaps to compensate, the focus of his lyrics is narrowing. They’re becoming studies in loneliness, anxiety, disaffiliation and self-erasure.
— Ben Ratliff, NY Times News Service
New Throned King, Yosvany Terry, 5Passion
There is, fundamentally, no way to follow Let Her Go, the whispered folk ballad that catapulted Passenger, the British singer-songwriter Mike Rosenberg, from mild renown and a yen for busking to a global phenom who still thinks busking is pretty cool.
That’s the tension, such as is — pop’s vital demand for can-do nature and folk’s natural reluctance — on Whispers, Rosenberg’s first album since Let Her Go. Like its predecessor, the deceptively elegant All the Little Lights, this album — a blend of Greenwich Village folk, soft-rock and Celtic music undertones — is almost comically plain-spoken and direct, like folk caricature. Yes, Riding to New York, about a wise stranger Rosenberg met on tour, begins, “Well, I met him in Minnesota/He was dark and overcast.”
Rosenberg has a reedy, scratched voice that makes him sound forever jittery and unsettled, as if he’s just been in a rainstorm wearing only a T-shirt. Unadorned, it can be striking, even if its arsenal is limited, like during the spare first half of the moving Heart’s on Fire, or even on the pastoral Coins in a Fountain.