Lazaretto. Italian for “I’ll put any style of music I want to on my album, dammit, and who’s gonna stop me?”. Actually, no. Lazarettos were quarantine stations used to house severely ill sea travelers, mainly in the 1800s. This was in attempt to keep diseases like the plague from spreading. But I’m going to go with my first definition. Lazaretto finds Jack White furthering his attempt to throw every musical whimsy into one album. Even more than on his first solo album Blunderbuss, Nashville has rubbed off on the once Detroit-based musician. But he never goes full-on pop-country of today. He mixes in the legendary Nashville music of old. There are some fiddles, some steel guitar, and some loud distorted guitars and bombastic drums. But the songwriting is there, making these genuinely enjoyable songs no matter which genre dominates each track.
The album kicks off with “Three Women”, which sounds like it’s partially one of the Beastie Boys’ instrumental jam records, part blues, and part.. something southern, but rocking hard the whole time. With such a wallop of a start, one doesn’t realize how many twists will happen as the album progresses. “Lazaretto” is next, and is one of a couple of my favorite rock tracks of the year. Every bit as irresistible as some of The White Stripes’ classics. And for those wondering, the frantic line “Yo trabajo duro como en madera y yeso” translates in Babelfish to “I work hard as wood and plaster”. So there you go. The guitar licks on this track are simply blazing. Then a quick shift into Americana with “Temporary Ground”, a duet with Lillie Mae Rische that is straight up saloon ballad. Which I would hate if it wasn’t so damn genuine.
But then we get modern again for a second. Well, we have a droning electronic pulse met with barroom piano and ghostly vocals that meld into something distinctly Jack White. A pained confessional delivered in just the right way. Then rounding out side one is a bizarre instrumental called “High Ball Stepper”, that even more bizarrely was the first track released to the public from this album. To call it a “guitar jam” would do it a disservice. Some of Jack’s finest guitar licks are on this track. Full of fuzzed out distortion and genuine rock and roll. But his excellent band is as much to credit for such a great track.
Side two, depending on if you have the vinyl or the cd or MP3 is different. “Just One Drink” is one of the best tracks from a rock and roll standpoint on this album. The CD/download versions play down the twang element. The vinyl has an acoustic and electric intro version, depending where you place the needle. But both are mixed different and have the fiddle higher in the mix, which drastically changes the vibe of the song. But in all cases this song is a winner. Even if it’s basically a blues song about getting drunk to be happy. “Alone In My Home” has lots of tavern piano, and is an upbeat happy sounding song with kind of sad lyrics about celebrating loneliness. “Entitlement” starts off with steel guitar and sounds like it will become really country, but lyrically is more of a folk song. Some of his best lyrics so far here, maybe channeling Woody Guthrie as he observes how people think they are owed so much.
Next up is one of my favorites, the loose but heavy rocking jam “That Black Bat Licorice”. Where else does a harp get funky with a Hammond organ so easily? “I Think I Found The Culprit” reminds me a bit of The Civil Wars musically, but vocally is straight up Jack White. This is one of the tracks where he can’t decide if he wants to be country, be funky with some scratchy guitar, or just throw it all in the pot and stir. And then finishing the set is “Want and Able”, somewhat of a folk song that has the sway of a sailor’s song. The CD even concludes with a bit of the locked groove bird noises from the LP.
Lazaretto is an intriguing album. It’s not quite the same album as last time. It’s not another White Stripes record. It’s Jack White following his whims. And the guy is creative enough to pull that off. There’s not a lot of musicians that can strike up a fiddle or steel guitar in a song and still be able to hold my interest because of the other things going on. This one does the trick. I hope Jack White always remains this fearless with his approach to music. It’s what keeps things fun. And it kept me coming back all year, earning it’s place on my list of this year’s very best.
Pick up your copy of Lazaretto HERE:
and check out the videos here:
“Would You Fight For My Love?”:
“High Ball Stepper” (Live at Glastonbury):
“Just One Drink” (Live at Glastonbury):
and Jack White explaining the features of the Lazaretto Ultra LP: