Jack White, “Boarding House Reach” (Third Man/Columbia)
His third solo album sounds crazy on paper.
It assembles bits of rock, blues, jazz, funk, synth pop, prog rock, country and spoken word into fascinating experiments that sound like Kanye West crossed with Radiohead or Merle Haggard joining Depeche Mode or, you know, ludicrous. However, White makes nearly all of it work. He’s created ambition you can dance to, spoken word poetry that rocks.
Maybe it’s no surprise that the guy who helped Beyoncé go country or Loretta Lynn find a hard-rocking comeback has decided to do some genre-crossing of his own.
But that doesn’t come close to explaining “Corporation,” which starts out as a funk jam studded with Led Zeppelin-like riffs for three minutes before flowing into a spoken-word rant. “I’m thinking about starting a corporation,” White says like a preacher at Sunday services. “Who’s with me? Nowadays, that’s how you get adulation.”
In “Ice Station Zero,” he moves from rapping like early Will Smith to something more Beck-like as he declares, “The players and the cynics will be thinking it’s hard, but if you rewind the tape, we’re all copying God,” as he preaches against labeling art.
Even when White scales back, he is still pushing boundaries. “What’s Done Is Done” seems like a country weeper, but it’s layered over some wobbly synths that give it a dreamlike quality as it devolves into a murderous threat. “Connected by Love” may sound traditional in comparison, but its intricacies still make it drift from latter-day White Stripes to a bit of Leonard Cohen-like call-and-response.
In the hands of a lesser musician, all these ambitions would be impossible to corral, but White bends them to his will, building this album into something uniquely beautiful.
GLENN GAMBOA, Newsday
Ruben Studdard, “Ruben Sings Luther” (SEG )
It’s one of those gone-but-not-forgotten things: the music of the late Luther Vandross. The velvety tenor possessed a saxophone’s subtone nuance, an operatic theatricality, dynamics for days, and a deep abiding soulfulness that made his penned-and-produced work sublime. Only a singer with similar power and range, such as Studdard, could come close to filling the void.
For this full-on lush-and-funky tribute, the “American Idol” Season 2 winner smartly doesn’t copy Vandross’ runs, slides or scats. The up-tempo “Bad Boy”/”Having a Party” and the coolly complex “Never Too Much” could have appeared as part of Studdard’s own slick R&B catalog. That doesn’t mean Studdard avoids reminiscing or picking up Vandross’ tics, and he veers close to Vandross’ simmer on the pensive “A House Is Not a Home.” That, however, is exactly what you want from a great tribute — soulful things old, new, borrowed and blue.
A.D. AMOROSI, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Kacey Musgraves, “Golden Hour”
• En Vogue, “Electric Cafe”
• Bettye LaVette, “Things Have Changed”
• Deadmau5, “Where’s the Drop?”
• Lindi Ortega, “Liberty”
• Kate Nash, “Yesterday Was Forever”