Review: Jack White tops debut album with ‘Lazaretto’

Jack White LAZARETTO

Merely counting the duo that first brought Jack White fame, the White Stripes, and the groups that followed, the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather, he’s piled accomplishment upon accomplishment. Yet there’s also the 45 albums the Detroit native produced and more than 250 recordings he’s released through his Nashville-based Third Man Records. White etched another notch on his guitar with his solo album debut, 2012’s “Blunderbuss.” As usual for him, the latter wild and fun, riff-driven exploration of the mercurial musical world of Jack White was a huge hit.

“Lazaretto,” White’s more than a year-and-a-half in the making follow-up to “Blunderbuss” tops his debut in ambition and artistry. The album casts his customary wail and sting, his energy and abandon within a more polished, arranged setting than usual.

To realize his “Lazaretto” vision, White surrounds himself with a big group of musicians, including members of the two bands that accompanied him during his “Blunderbuss” tour. Keyboardist Brooke Waggoner, an LSU music grad and former New Orleans and Morgan City resident, is among them.

“Three Women” serves as “Lazaretto’s” first shot. White sings about a redhead, a blonde and a brunette with breathless exasperation. Even though the song’s plentiful riffs are executed by piano and organ rather than the customary guitar, the music remains exuberantly off the hook.

Super-energetic title song “Lazaretto” pairs White’s Jimmy Page-ish electric guitar playing with a mid-song psychedelic freak out. The tone shifts for “Temporary Ground,” a lovely hybrid of traditional country, as rendered by White, and neo-hippie psychedelic sounds. Kudos go to Lillie Mae Rische’s supporting vocals and fiddle solo as well as Waggoner’s apropos piano.

With “Would You Fight for My Love?”, White and 11 backing musicians create a grand theme song for an imaginary spaghetti western. “High Ball Stepper,” the colorful thunder and butterflies instrumental that follows, could be part of that same imaginary spaghetti western’s interior soundtrack.

Press notes for “Lazaretto” say that White envisioned every song on the album as a single. That claim surely applies to the Rolling Stones-in-country-rock-mode “Just One Drink.” Also to “Alone in My Home,” the album’s pleasing pop song.

The 38-year-old White turns philosophical in “Entitlement,” his forthrightly expressed critique of today’s youth.

“I can’t bring myself to take without penance, or atonement or sweat from my brow,” he sings in the slower, country-style gem, “though the world may be spoiled and getting worse every day.”

The single-worthy songs keep coming in “Lazaretto.” White has painted a masterpiece.

First Aid Kit STAY GOLD

Klara and Johanna Söderberg, the Swedish sisters known as First Aid Kit, knocked many listeners out a few years ago with “Emmylou.” That song evocatively suggests the possibility of experiencing a relationship deep enough to rival those of legendary country music pairs Johnny and June Carter Cash and Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons. Rolling Stone magazine deservedly named “Emmylou” 2012’s single of the year.

The Söderberg sisters’ ringing voices and the haunting songs they write are so striking and unique. First Aid Kit can’t be mistaken for any other act in contemporary folk, country or pop music.

The duo’s just-released third album, “Stay Gold,” doesn’t contain a song as attention-grabbing as “Emmylou,” but it is a satisfying, beautiful follow-up to their 2012 album, “The Lion’s Road.”

The Söderberg sisters are obvious students of American music, including the similarly haunted story songs and soundscapes of Nancy Sinatra collaborator Lee Hazlewood. True to form, they recorded “Stay Gold” in the American heartland city of Omaha with local musicians, including many classical players. Mike Mogis, whose credits include Bright Eyes and Monsters of Folk, led the sessions.

Opening song “My Silver Lining” places the sisters’ chiming voices and rolling acoustic guitar arpeggios alongside a classical string quintet. It’s folk-orchestral music that blows across some unspoiled, expansive American landscape. “Master Pretender” has more country in it, casting plaintive lap steel guitar and clarinets and flutes.

“Stay Gold,” the album’s epic title song, and “Shattered & Hollow” each hold the mix of longing and determination that typically distinguishes First Aid Kit’s lyrics. “Oh, I’d rather be shattered than hollow,” they sing. “Oh, I’d rather be by your side.” Such sentiment and maturity in the words plus the sisters’ conviction are far beyond what might be expected from young women who are 20 and 23 years old.

Following a series of majestic songs, the Söderbergs break into a hootenanny with the upbeat “Heaven Knows” but still keep the lyrics contemplative. “Stay Gold” ends with a mournful, orchestra-accompanied ballad, “Long Time Ago.”

The Söderberg sisters, a duo so winning and singular, are another great musical gift from Sweden to the world.