ALBUM REVIEW: Jack White's Boarding House Reach
Words by Brad Yeakel (Opti Mystic Outlooks)
I admit that I was later to the Jack White party than most. The little bit of White Stripes, Dead Weather, and Raconteurs that made its’ way to my lobes failed to capture me. Then I heard Lazaretto, and everything changed. His arrangements were unexpected and brilliantly crafted. From Tennessee fiddles and angelic harmonies to digital delays and sonic textures, Jack White’s solo band was eclectic and fresh. Since then, I’ve delved headlong into his other projects, enjoying them more now, but not as much as his solo work. So, word of a third Jack White Solo album had me more excited than Sarah Huckabee Sanders has ever been in her entire life.
White wasted no time shattering my expectations with an introductory riff that whomped like a dubstep effect. It’s pairing with Jack’s melancholic vocals was stark yet creatively cohesive with White’s other solo efforts. By halfway through the track (“Connected by Love”), I realized the song had taken a turn for the more traditional Jack White sound. He somehow blends disparate influences into some simultaneously derivative and groundbreaking cocktail of the American songbook. A concept he actually explores in the song “Ice Station Zebra.” “I live in a vacuum, I ain’t copying no one!” And later, “If you rewind the tape, we’re all copying God.”
As Boarding House Reach unfolded, I noted the funky influence of keyboardist Neal Evans. Neal has been working in the jazz and funk circuit for decades, and his influence on the album is evident. His hip-hop, soul, and funk background injected a different dimension to an already impressive assortment of musical styles. Nowhere is his presence more apparent than in the driving funk of “Corporation.” Neal’s vibe complemented Jack White’s songwriting tremendously, always adding and never taking away from Jack’s vision. The groovy riffs and funky licks provided yet another surprising layer to White’s arsenal of audio. A pool that grows regularly. White absorbs stylistic elements from every direction. His ties to Detroit, L.A., and Nashville are as much a part of his sound as his work with Beck, Beyoncé, Loretta Lynn, and Jimmy Page.
Like the ghost of some poet portrayed by Johnny Depp, White’s timeless style integrates sounds from gospel, honkeytonk, Americana, Country Western, as well as cutting edge modern alternative rock roots. It saunters up with a bag of musical tricks from across the last century, unassuming and impossible to ignore. It’s remarkable how cohesive the album is, considering the numerous genres represented.
There are a few tracks that have modest background grooves and what sounds like spoken word poetry as the focal point. In other tracks, White uses his raw, garage-punk bellow to wail modern 12 bar blues in to these sort of saloon-punk sing alongs. There are fragments of the album that push further into electronic territory than anything Jack has done. And there were moments that were quintessential JW.
Lou Reed once said, “Godfrey, I try to write ‘Sweet Jane’ every day.” The pressure to continue to be brilliant once you’ve proven you’re capable of brilliance can be a lot to shoulder. Some get writer’s block, some try to write the same kind of music and become stale, some progress too far and alienate some of their fans. It’s rough in the world of music, and trends are fleeting. The way that Jack White has been able to grow, maintaining his artistic integrity, his creative inspiration, his continuing relevance, and his commitment to quality while taking on new sounds, styles, and partners speaks to the depth of his musical talent.
After no less than a dozen listens so far, I can say I enjoy this release as much as any White work to date. His development as a creative powerhouse has led to multiple successful bands, a resume of collaborations that highlights the cream of the entertainment crop, and a record label that has a sterling reputation despite its place in a dying industry. And from the look of things, he’s not done yet.