Final Rating: 6.5/10
For someone who has spent a good chunk of their career in a barebones-yet-boistrous two-piece band, “acoustic” isn’t necessarily the first word that comes to mind when you bring up the name Jack White.
We should have all seen this retrospective coming though. Back in early 2015, White started to sound as if he was growing weary of the festival headlining scene, self-imposing a performing hiatus, but only after completing a short tour in outskirt markets with setlists composed entirely of stripped-down song arrangements.
No, there weren’t any rowdy chant-alongs to “Seven Nation Army”. Anyone enlisted in the White fan camp will argue – probably vehemently – that their music general isn’t defined by a particular genre, or by the volume-cranking energy he has generated in the past through a Kay Hollowbody guitar. White has always been quite capable in that regard.
If you weren’t able to catch one of these all-acoustic affairs, or need further proof Jack White is one of his generation’s great songwriters, the latest release from Third Man Records has you covered with Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016. Spanning the multi-instrumentalist’s time with the White Stripes, Raconteurs plus solo-credited efforts, the 26 included tracks bring a sensitive side to light that has been at times clouded through extraneous and superfluous circumstances over the years.
White’s biggest strength is keeping things as simple as possible, which these selections do for the most part by way of sparse strumming and the occasional accompanying piano. The advantage of owning your own label like White does is you’re never contractually obligated to scrape together a greatest hits compilation for monetary purposes. As much as I enjoy relistening to his softer stuff as well as mostly admire everything he’s done, this sure feels like one of those deals. This less-than-surprising package even comes complete with a readymade featured single (“City Lights”, now with its own music video courtesy of Michel Gondry). No matter how cool the notion that it’s an unearthed White Stripes gem, the sad fact is it barely registers as a discarded B-side.
So while it’s not like this collection will go unappreciated, here’s hoping it’s merely a gimmicky bump-in-the-road placeholder until White becomes motivated enough to surprise us all again with another auditory dose of eclectic diversity.
Oh, and if Jack or Third Man Records are reading this, should you ever happen to need a curator to narrow down punk blues songs for a future anthology, I’m your man!