Jack White

Album: “Lazaretto” (Third Man/Columbia

Grade: A

Jack White’s second solo album is steeped in tones of his adopted hometown, Nashville. Lighthearted piano, sprightly fiddle and soulful slide guitar lend a country twang to most of the 11 tracks.

White is more open musically on “Lazaretto” than any of his previous works, whether with the White Stripes, Raconteurs, Dead Weather or solo. He shares the vocal spotlight with fiddler-singer Lillie Mae Rische and Ruby Amanfu, who belongs to the Peacocks, an all-female band that backed White while touring for his first solo album, 2012’s “Blunderbuss.”

The Dead Weather-esque title single heralds the new album perfectly: a blend of White’s signature guitar-heavy blues rock seasoned with some folksy charm in the form of a violin solo.

Where “Blunderbuss” explored love and loss, “Lazaretto” is more about love and loneliness. Parlor piano opens an ode to solitary life, “Alone in My Home.” A country fiddle cries at the beginning of “Temporary Ground,” about life’s fleeting nature.

White does the crying and lets his distorted guitar do the talking on “High Ball Stepper.” Harmonica, organ and piano join in on another rocker, the boastful romp “Three Women” — the album’s only track White didn’t write alone; he shares credit with late blues guitarist Blind Willie McTell.

At 38, firmly rooted in rock’s lexicon and surrounded by Nashville’s rich musical history, White stretches out on “Laza- retto” and leaves his future wide open.

Sandy Cohen, Associated Press


Album: “Stay Gold” (Columbia)

Grade: B-

Sweden is less known for its folk scene than for its place in the pure pop market, where for decades the country has produced glistening, chrome-toned singles. For obvious reasons — climate, lack of cowboys and troubadours — country and western and earnest folk rock have seldom been ingredients. This makes young sibling duo First Aid Kit unique, and the proof is spread throughout their new album, “Stay Gold.”

Produced in Omaha by longtime Saddle Creek Records affiliate Michael Mogis, “Stay Gold” confirms artists eager to explore a big sound. “Shattered and Hollow” offers echoed drama with a minimal beat and Klara Svderberg’s huge voice, a vivid recollection of lost love ferried into the present. “Heaven Knows” should be a hit: a singalong gem with an uptempo shuffle-beat and a gigantic hook.

But the group often sounds more derivative than it does inspired, and clumsy lyrics don’t help. The first lines of the record, from “My Silver Lining,” offer a hint of what’s to come. “I don’t know if I’m scared of dying but I’m scared of living too fast too slow,” Klara explains with a forced twang, lost amid linguistic boulders and a cleverness that muddles meaning. “The Waitress Song” is a patronizing ballad about moving to a small town to become a waitress. “It’s a long, twisted road we are on,” Klara sings as a moaning violin takes flight. Surrounded by such thrills, the cliches sound less so.

The closer, “A Long Time Ago,” strives for a grand conclusion, but misses amid musical melodrama that sounds forced, a problem that permeates “Stay Gold.”

— Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times


Grade: C

Album: “While You Were Sleeping” (Blue Note)

After building an underground following with a pair of sleek, electronic-edged soul-jazz albums, Jose James turned mainstream heads last year with his first record for the venerable Blue Note label. “No Beginning No End” presented the singer as an old soul with new ideas; it also earned countless comparisons to D’Angelo’s 2000 landmark, “Voodoo.”

His foot now in the door, James actively works against such comparisons on his second Blue Note set, which sprawls almost defiantly, from the folky title track to the psychedelic “Angel” to the behind-the-beat R&B of “U R the 1.” Guitarist Brad Allen Williams, a new addition to James’ band, pushes the music toward spiky indie rock, of all things, in “Anywhere U Go” and “EveryLittleThing,” which suggests Prince fronting Nine Inch Nails.

The result demonstrates a mastery of vibe. In his determination to establish his own lane, though, James has let his once-strong songwriting sag. For all their textural sparkle, these tunes don’t stick the way the earthier material on “No Beginning No End” did.

— Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times

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