New Music 3/23/18: Jack White, Neil Young & Promise of the Real

Hot off the presses: new music!  Better said, new music that is worth your time.

Jack White – Boarding House Reach – 13 songs / 44 minutes

Open your ears (and your mind) and enjoy yet another masterpiece of funky rock and roll that will temporarily transform you to another planet.

 

Consider Jack White’s career arc thus far: At an incredibly young age he forms The White Stripes with his ex-wife, playing gigs and trying to land a record deal in his native Detroit.  They quickly gain a rabid following and land on V2 Records, and their third record catapults them to superstardom with hits like “Fell In Love With a Girl”, “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”, and “We’re Going To be Friends” .  After a few more incredibly popular records, including arguably the most recognizable rock song of our generation (“Seven Nation Army”), Jack feels like he needs more room to grow and broaden his sound.  He does side projects with Brendan Benson (the pop-rock goodness that was The Raconteurs) and Alisson Mosshart (playing drums for Dead Weather).  Eventually he disbands the Stripes and begins his current solo phase.

Boarding House Reach is Mr. White’s third solo album, and first after a four-year hiatus.   It also the third to debut at #1 on the increasingly irrelevant Billboard music charts.  Even in this day of streaming and bootlegging, that is quite a feat.  The craziest part is that he continues to provide music of a caliber that deserves such success and praise.  While Blunderbuss introduced us to Jack White, Songwriter and Jack White, More than a Riff Machine, and Lazaretto introduced us to Jack White, Bizarro Musical Genius, this thing is next level in terms of how far a guy can go with guitars, keyboards, drums, and those ever-present bongos.

This album is basically ten songs with three interludes (the musically pleasing but over-the-top verbiage of “Abuila and Akrasia”, the spacy and snarky “Everything You’ve Ever Learned”, and the subtle jab at distracted concert-goers that is “Ezmerelda Steals the Show”).  Of the ten full-fledged songs, I posit that all but the album closer are pure genius (the overly simple piano/vocal melody on “Humoresque” is beneath the rest of this album).  Many of them will catch the listener off guard at first and like any excellent adventure may require multiple listens to get acclimated.

For those uninterested in wading into the deep end of the pool, start with “Connected By Love”, “Over and Over and Over” (the classic Jack White riff here may be the rock song of the summer), “What’s Done Is Done” (a sad bastard/subtly violent heartache song over a drum machine beat), and “Humoresque”.  These songs are fairly normal in terms of construction and instrumentation and are instantly enjoyable.  But the most fun is found on the more abstract and challenging tracks, such as “Corporation”, “Respect Commander”, “Get in the Mind Shaft”, and “Hypermisophoniac”.  On the former song, Jack screams his intent to start a corporation, imploring “Who’s with me?!?!”  I am Jack, and I think we all are.  Another album highlight is the low-key “Why Walk A Dog?”, which questions mankind’s treatment of our canine companions to great effect.  There are many, many great moments here but it seems likely I will have to do a lengthier write up of this one for the year end top-ten list, so I will leave it here for now.

Go listen to this!!

Key Tracks: “Connected By Love”, “Over and Over and Over”, “Corporation”

 

Neil Young & Promise of the Real – Paradox (Soundtrack) – 21 songs / 53 minutes

The soundtrack to Neil and his new gal Daryl Hannah’s new motion picture once again finds him working with Promise of the Real but provides little in the way of new music from the ever-wandering genius.

 

Neil has been playing and recording with Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah and their band Promise of the Real for a few years now, and they seem to have provided the old horse a spark that was missing in his work since his incredible and under-appreciated 2010 solo album Le Noise.  However, this album is not much more than a collection of studio re-workings and live renditions of previously released material.  By my count, there are only three original compositions found here: “Diggin’ In the Dirt”, which finds Neil and Lukas sharing singing duties about trying to find the things that make them feel all right; “Running to the Silver Eagle”, an instrumental that features that classic Neil harmonica atop blistering guitar and a propulsive drumbeat; “Offerings”, a one-minute acoustic guitar and harmonica instrumental that recalls mellow Neil a la Comes A Time.

For hard core Neil fans like myself there are some gems here, including a passionate live recording of “Pocahontas”, one of his finest songs from the 70s, and the raucous “Cowgirl Jam” – a ten minute instrumental take on “Cowgirl In the Sand”.  On the latter, Promise of the Real are up to the task of playing this legendary song and you can hear Neil and the crowd enjoying the ride.  In fact, many of the album’s highlights do not have Neil front and center at all.  Lukas provides a beautiful version of his father’s “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”, and also gives us a fresh take on the Lead Belly classic “How Long?”.

It would be trite and unfair to label this as a throwaway release; it surely is more than that.  There just isn’t much here that is new and unheard; this may serve as a nice soundtrack to his film, but doesn’t move the needle much in terms of a Neil Young album release.

Key Tracks: “Cowgirl Jam”, “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”, “Diggin’ In the Dirt”

 

Also heard (but not recommending):

Sunflower Bean – Twentytwo in Blue – This album is plenty pretty and does show a promising young band, but it didn’t live up to the super-glowing review I read in The Wall Street Journal.  Having said that, I don’t have anything bad to say about this record and “Burn It” and “Memoria” are a couple pop/rock gems that recall 70s-era Fleetwood Mac.

Andrew Sheppard – Steady Your Aim – Second effort from local country singer-songwriter is not too shabby, but after “Here at the Bottom” there isn’t much here too exciting.  He and his band were fun when I saw them at Treefort, better than their studio recordings.

Guided By Voices – Space Gun

Jeff Rosenstock – Post-