Following half a decade of side projects and the dissolution of the White Stripes, Jack White's “Blunderbuss” is a knockout, a concise and remarkably focused distillation of White's gifts as a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and standard-bearer for rock 'n' roll.
From the opening electric piano figure on “Missing Pieces” and the hard-bashing high school drama “Sixteen Saltines,” White is playing entirely to strengths: dispensing with the circumscribed musical format of the White Stripes sets him free to explore his fully realized notions of rock in its classic forms.
From the songwriting structures to the production, “Blunderbuss” feels entirely organic and often bracingly primitive: during a passage of the female rebellion anthem “Freedom at 21,” White rolls his vocals into one stereo channel, as if there were only four tracks at his disposal.
His powerful duet with Ruby Amanfu, “Love Interruption,” powers forward with minimal percussion and a “Son of a Preacher Man”-style keyboard — not much is needed beyond the obvious passion at its core.
White doesn't seem to be obviously aiming for retro sounds on “Blunderbuss,” but it frequently sounds like the great albums Jimmy Miller produced for the Rolling Stones in the late-1960s and early 1970s, especially on the Southern pastoral ballad “Hypocritical Kiss,” the rambling piano-rock of “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” and the Jerry Lee Lewis/Stones barn burner, “Trash Tongue Talker.”
Most of these songs could have worked as White Stripes' tracks, but as a solo act, White is able to give these songs exactly what they need.
The closing song, “Take Me With You When You Go,” bounces along on a 6/8 time signature reminiscent of Dave Brubeck's “Take Five” before exploding in fuzztones and manic high harmonies, and its hard to imagine it being executed so exquisitely within the Stripes' deliberately primitive structure.
White is a classic overachiever with many irons in the fire, but on “Blunderbuss,” he concentrates all his creative heat.
— George Lang