Jack White named his most recent album of new material Lazaretto which is a quarantine location or isolation hospital.The reason for the title was that White has an insatiable work ethic and the only way he would stop writing/producing/running a record store/live venue would be to physically lock himself away. In early 2016 White announced he would be taking a hiatus, but true to form, he has managed to release an album anyway.
Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016 does exactly what the title suggests: it organizes all of the acoustic tracks, soundtrack efforts, some b-sides, and a few remixes into a cohesive collection. White has crisscrossed his projects (White Stripes, Dead Weather, Raconteurs) and showcased his more nuanced numbers by stripping away his searing guitar playing or the layered instrumentation of recent efforts. Now the spotlight focuses squarely onto White’s songwriting, and it shines.
Sadly the album brings very little to light for the first time, which is a let down for longtime fans, but those new to White or people who have never gotten past the theatrics will have a lot to dig into. Organized chronologically the album manages to balance humor and intensity around chord changes, tambourines and vocals; the stark joy of the release is the mix of soul baring honesty and witty wordplay.
Having the passionate “White Moon” and the backwoods blues balladry of “Never Far Away” rolling out next to the Beck produced “Honey, We Can’t Afford To Look This Cheap” which smirks of joy; all of the tracks show the dynamism of their creator. Both “Effect & Cause” and “Want And Able” end sides of records, putting these brother/sister tunes in their proper places while “Forever For Her (Is Over For Me)” which was a show stopping standout on Get Behind Me Satan, becomes just another winner in this ‘almost-greatest-hits’ context.
A semi-new White Stripe track “City Lights” is delicate number and “Just One Drink” gets stripped down then supped back up with layers of violins. Sure, “We’re Going to Be Friends” and “Love Interruption” are all time classic tracks, but perhaps a live take or reinterpretation would have peeled back the curtain even more. On the flip side having the bluegrass version of “Top Yourself” and an acoustic remix of “Carolina Drama” makes any retread complaints null and void.
In the end, Acoustic Recordings isn’t the artistic revelation The Bootleg Series 1-3 from Dylan or from Waits were, but it isn’t crafted to be. This release hovers between starter kit and ‘understated soft hits’, it also assures that White belongs in the conversation with those great writers when it comes to songcraft.