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Music reviews: Jack White, Bonnie Raitt, Lurrie Bell

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jwhiteblunderbuss.jpgJack White, "Blunderbuss" (XL) 3 stars -- After slashing through the musical culture as chief samurai of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs and (sort of) the Dead Weather, bluesy modern-rock icon Jack White finally has a moment to himself. Thirteen years after debuting with the now-defunct White Stripes, this is White's solo debut -- one that began on a lark when rapper RZA didn't show up for a scheduled recording session at White's Third Man Studios. The resulting whimsy is the salvation of "Blunderbuss," available Tuesday, a record that distills as well as stretches out each of his previous sounds and adds a refreshing new chapter to White's colorful tale.

Single "Sixteen Saltines" is pure guitar raunch and desperate desire, and its bloozy kick is quickly recognizable as Jack White, Indie-Rock Icon and eagerly anticipated Lollapalooza 2012 headliner. The full album, though, ping-pongs through folk and country and '70s-rock (arena ambitions, yes, but also a heap of overwrought piano solos) plus various left turns that take him in a bit of a creative circle but also take listeners on a joyride. "Missing Pieces" is assembled out of lost Stax soul grooves, "Love Interruption" is a masochistic mess of mountain-folk madness and klezmer woodwinds, "I'm Shakin'" draws on themes from White's session with rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson, and closer "Take Me With You When You Go" knits together Zero 7 and Zappa for a sweet and slightly psychedelic finish.

Unlike Elvis Costello, who usually took one left turn per album ("Get Happy!" is the soul record, "Almost Blue" is the country record, etc.), or Beck, White crams his stylistic experiments into a single set. Like them, White is large and contains multitudes -- and "Blunderbuss" works a lyrical thread of determined creative independence. "The people around me / won't let me become what I need to / They want me the same," he sings in "On and On and On." "I look at myself and I want to / just cover my eyes and / give myself a new name." Nah, the one we know will do fine. "Blunderbuss" will go down either as a serious blunder, a vain curiosity or, hopefully, as one of his most listenable sets.

Bonnie Raitt, "Slipstream" (Redwing) 3 stars -- One of rock's finest interpreters, Bonnie Raitt, 62, re-emerges after a seven-year recording hiatus with yet another set of perfectly pleasant, well-chosen and occasionally daring songs. "Slipstream" launches Raitt's independent record label, Redwing, and seems to have relaunched America's love affair with her honey-smooth voice and take-it-easy guitar playing. A reggae-flavored cover of Gerry Rafferty's "Right Down the Line" is a confection, but the slightly saltier cuts -- a funky reading of Randall Bramblett's "Used to Rule the World," Al Anderson and Bonnie Bishop's confessional "Not Cause I Wanted To" and the vulnerable, crucial "You Can't Fail Me Now" by Loudon Wainwright III and "Slipstream" producer Joe Henry -- are worth the reacquaintance. Two Dylan covers, "Million Miles" and "Standing in the Doorway" (both from "Time Out of Mind"), embody Raitt's dual existence as supple blues-rocker and peerless balladeer, respectively.

In concert: Raitt has a two-night stand May 19-20 at the Chicago Theatre.

Lurrie Bell, "The Devil Ain't Got No Music" (Aria B.G.) 4 stars -- A great talent derailed years ago by personal problems, Lurrie Bell just might have made the record he was born to make. The son of harp master Carey Bell, the Chicago guitarist brings his considerable chops -- especially on acoustic here -- to a set of gospel and like-minded songs. He's not the first bluestender to mix up a salvation-and-sin cocktail, but "The Devil Ain't Got No Music" is a mighty strong alloy. Opening with an unearthly groove applied to "Swing Low," this Satan-taunting set (titled for one of Mavis Staples' favorite interview quips) tries to reclaim blues from the depths, or bring gospel down to earth, or both. Joe Louis Walker, one of several guests, slips his slide guitar into Mississippi Fred McDowell's "It's a Blessing" and the album's pinnacle, a reverent reading of Thomas Dorsey's "Search Me Lord." The pleas there for restoration are heart-wrenching, even without the aforementioned personal problems, and the spare production by fellow bluesman Matthew Skoller keeps the bushels off of Bell's ever-brightening light.

In concert: Bell's tug-of-war between the secular and sacred continues in his upcoming local bookings. First, he'll be with Skoller, Bill Sims Jr. and others for a show at 5 p.m. April 21 at the Beloved Community Christian Church, 6430 S. Harvard St. Then he plays with Billy Flynn and more at 8 p.m. April 25 at S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Ave. in Evanston.

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can't WAIT to check out Jack at Lolla!

So excited to see him on the UNSTAGED webcast on YouTube tonight! Here's the link...

"Derailed?" I have seen Lurrie perform dozens of times throughout the past decade and have bought every one of his excellent albums. His talent has hardly been derailed. No more so than Bonnie Raitt's similar, "derailment," you failed to mention. I realize on the surface it appears you have given his work a positive review. However, I just wish that one time the McJournalismtenders could mix up a double-substance review that holds the cliches. Lurrie is one of the most uniquely talented musicians in this town. He deserves better than to be a stock character in wiki-researched blues reviews.

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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.


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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on April 20, 2012 9:00 AM.

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