Critical Voices: Jack White Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016

September 19, 2016

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

After nearly twenty years of killer riffs, face-melting solos, and unadulterated shredding, Jack White has become virtually synonymous with the electric guitar. But in his newest release, the garage-rock pioneer is going acoustic. The straightforwardness of the album’s title, Acoustic Recordings: 1998-2016, reflects the bare-bones, reductionist nature of the collection, which compiles the rare moments in White’s discography in which he chose to unplug.

The prototypical Jack White recording, whether it be with The White Stripes, The Dead Weather, The Raconteurs, or as a solo artist, seems incomplete without the trademark scream of his guitar and his strained, ragged voice seeping through the distortion. But the stripped down numbers in the new collection, such as “Sugar Never Tasted So Good” and “As Ugly As I Seem,” put the spotlight on White’s songwriting ability, allowing his raw, often politically-charged lyrics to stand on their own. In the latter, White illustrates the mutual pain of a breakup: “There is a drop of blood on the ground/ and it seems to me that it’s not my kind/ but I can’t be sure if it’s yours or mine.” Lyrics like these prove that White, while he revels in the high octane din of electric guitar, doesn’t hide behind it.

Beyond an emphasis on songwriting, Acoustic Recordings could also be seen as an effort to recapture the very essence of the blues. In its original form, the blues involved nothing more than a wounded man, his guitar, and his voice. When he ditches the distortion and the fuzz, White is really paying homage to the greats–Robert Johnson, Son House, Lightnin’ Hopkins–who did without fancy amps or pedalboards. In their nascence, the blues were about stories of heartbreak and misfortune and tragedy. They entailed the woe and suffering of a broken man, and often an entire community.

Acoustic Recordings reveals a man well in tune with his predecessors. While Jack White developed a unique, supercharged sound and pushed the boundaries of blues-rock, he never forgot about the roots of his musical genre. And for those who view White’s music as largely one-dimensional, Acoustic Recordings offers a strong rebuttal in its portrayal of a well rounded, multifaceted rock star.


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