Often when an album is released after more than a year and a half of anticipation, the payoff is lackluster, but Lazaretto lives up to the hype. This is Jack White’s second solo release, the follow up to 2012’s Blunderbuss (which was named the top album of that year by Drunk Monkeys). Like with Blunderbuss, he continues to move farther away from the minimalist approach that defined his work with The White Stripes and The Dead Weather. Lazaretto finds White once again employing The Buzzards and The Peacocks to back him up, along with his “Love Interruption” partner Ruby Amanfu.
The opening track “Three Women” is a tip of the hat to Blind Willie McTell’s 1928 single “Three Women Blues” (the B-side of which was the better known “Statesboro Blues”, famously covered by The Allman Brothers). The furious harmonica solo at the song’s close is a nice touch. The title track “Lazaretto” (Italian for leper’s hospital) has a hip-hop vibe, yet it never seems forced or gimmicky, and ends with a well-placed fiddle solo that sets up the next track. Ruby Amanfu lends a beautiful vocal to “Temporary Ground”, the first country song on the album, complete with crying pedal steel guitars and fiddle. “Entitlement“ is straight American Honky-Tonk, a classic sound that modern radio country has seemed to have lost. In fact, White does country so well one almost wishes he would release a fully country-inspired album in the future. Lyrically, Lazaretto has some of the most thought provoking lines in recent mainstream music—it might even wind up a new anthem for the disenfranchised.
Other standouts include the instrumental “Highball Stepper” and “Black Bat Licorice”. “Highball Stepper” is a fuzzed-out, aggressive riff that sounds like it was inspired by a rough night and Black Sabbath. On “Black Bat Licorice” White shows he can spit a rhyme. The song features a drum style and sound so powerful you’d swear Bud Gaugh, formerly of Sublime, was a guest on the track. White even has a Rolling Stones flavored tune, “Just one Drink”, that’s just classic rock n’ roll done right—short and sweet. Try listening to it and not imagining Mick doing his rooster strut.
The grueling eighteen-month recording process has paid off for White. Lazaretto is, without a doubt, his most polished and accomplished production. There is not a weak track on the album. This collection proves that an artist can create credible music for the mainstream without selling their soul—a lesson that Nashville could learn from, since it appears that a blues-rocker from Detroit is playing better country music than they are these days.
Lazaretto is now available from Third Man Records.
9.0 TOTAL SCORE