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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Horehound on his Trail

Jack White’s Blues

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­As one of the few remarkable artists to emerge from rock since Kurt Cobain, Jack White started from scratch, ignoring readymade musical models and building the sound of the White Stripes from the foundation of Robert Johnson's poetic voodoo blues. Setting the Stripes aside, White embarked on other projects, first the more straight-ahead rock of the Raconteurs and now, the blues-rock of the Dead Weather.

Stop: blues-rock is only shorthand, accurate as musicology but not giving the full essence of the words and music. A ghostly blues moan haunts many of the songs on the Dead Weather's debut album, Horehound (released on White's own Third Man label). And everything assertively rocks. But the reverb-drenched music, anchored by White's spooky drum play, belongs to a line begun in the 1930s by Robert Johnson and continued in more recent years by Jeffrey Lee Pierce and Nick Cave. The Dead Weather is an eerie assault, a careening journey down to the dark side drawn by searing guitars and the acid-edged, slatternly vocal of Alison Mosshart (from the Kills).

Incessant and dynamically restless, Horehound pushes the needle into the red zone at every turn and reverberates with an old-time, unhomogenized urgency resulting from White's vintage instruments, amps and microphones as much as the performance itself. There are cinematic digressions: the Latino western guitars of "Rocking Horse" suggest a lost track from a forgotten '60s film. And while the original songs are relentless and absorbing, the show stopper is Bob Dylan's enigmatic "New Pony," reimagined around a monster metallic riff reminiscent of the early Jeff Beck Group at its heaviest. Like the Uriah Heep organ on "I Cut Like a Buffalo," some of Horehound is close to '70s rock-but not too close. The music is deeply rooted yet entirely contemporary.

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