Lazaretto Album Review

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Jack White’s latest album is available! Released on June 10th, 2014, through White’s own label Third Man Records, this 11-track modern, heavy blues rock album is the result of White and members of his two backing bands, The Peacocks and The Buzzards, putting in long later hours. Working during breaks while touring his “Blunderbuss” album, “Lazaretto” took over a year to complete, taking much longer than White usually does to complete an album.

Partly inspired by short stories, poems, and plays White wrote when he was 19 years old and rediscovered in his attic years later. White admitted to Rolling Stone that, “I was going to throw away a bunch of it, but I was just coming up with new styles of attacking songwriting for the album…. It’s definitely not one sound. It’s definitely several. Like you heard in “Blunderbuss,” there’s many styles there. I don’t pick my style and then write a song. I just write whatever comes out of me, and whatever style it is what it is, and it becomes something later.”

Three Women” thunderously builds up the opening of the record, laying a pit of bluesy rhythm you easily sink into. Based on Blind Willie McTell‘s 1928 recording “Three Women Blues” (McTell received a co-writing credit), White’s version of too much lovin’ is told through a gospel organ wheezing power chords, a rocking piano riff between lines, White yowling “Lordy Lord!” to quote McTell’s 1933’s “Broke Down Engine”, on top of his squealing pedal-steel guitar.

Title track “Lazaretto” (Italian for lepers’ hospital) was declared as the album’s first single. Complete with screeching guitar, but with hip-hop overtones, White explained the meaning behind the character in this song to NPR: “This was a rhyme about the braggadocio of some hip-hop lyrics – bragging about oneself in hip-hop music. There character who’s singing this song is bragging about himself, but he’s actually bragging about real things he’s actually accomplished and real things that he actually does, not imaginary things or things he would like to do.”

His style flips again on “That Black Bat Licorice” to a dark reggae beat accompanied by angsty mandolin, quivering organ and fiery fiddle. “Women need to know/ I play dumb like Columbo,” White warns. An antique hunting recording of crows begins “Want and Able,” a ballad about two characters, “Juan” and “Able” who aren’t able to do what they naturally want to do. “Temporary Ground” features the lilting voice of Lillie Mae Rische with haunting harmonies, reminding the listener that White’s blues are still present despite all the previous boasting. A video of the instrumental song “High Ball Stepper” was released in April as a teaser for the album. The screaming wails that begin the song were acquired by running Lillie Mae’s violin through a backwards effects pedal and then doubling the sound with vocalist Ruby Amanfu. Add the harsh fuzz guitar and galloping piano, and the frenzied aggression makes you feel like you can conquer.

Known for never writing lyrics in the first person, White’s characters sound like simpletons with the blues, on the lookout for whoever or whatever they are blue about. The album sounds thick, full of indulgent sound tricks and tidbits that White is known for creating – and even hiding on his albums. (“Lazeretto” on vinyl features two tracks hidden under the labels, with one playing at 78 rpm and one at 45 rpm, making the release a three speed album; a testament to White’s dedication to his craft).