New Recordings: Miranda Lambert, Jack White, and Neil Young
Ratings: **** Excellent, *** Good, ** Fair, * Poor
"There's church bells ringing down the road," Miranda Lambert sings on "Another Sunday in the South," the pretty, pastoral track that winds down her fifth album, Platinum. "And we ain't goin'."
With that refusal, the tough Texan once again asserts that she's her own woman, with no time for the paint-by-numbers pieties that can make pop country so distressingly predictable. Platinum is an impressive, if overlong - 16 songs, just under an hour - return to form after the slight loss of nerve of 2011's Four the Record.
Among such winners as the Western swing workout "All That's Left" and the unsentimental "Hard Staying Sober," Platinum does have a few missteps. "Somethin' Bad," a duet with Carrie Underwood, lays on the Thelma & Louise playacting a little too thick, and "Automatic," a nostalgic-before-its-time plea for a bygone era of old-fashioned craftsmanship that, oddly, is the most impersonally manufactured song on the album.
There are plenty of other examples of Lambert gumption, starting with "Bathroom Sink," in which the 30-year-old country star looks in the mirror and sings, "It's amazing the amount of rejection that I see in my reflection, but I can't get out of the way." That kind of self-doubt, verging on self-loathing, doesn't too often make it to the top of the country charts - and Platinum, which also packs plenty of swagger in the title cut and "Little Red Wagon," is undoubtedly headed there.
- Dan DeLuca
(Third Man/Columbia ***1/2)
The Philadelphia Lazaretto, in what is now Essington, Delaware County, was the first quarantine hospital in the United States, a predecessor to Ellis Island. Named for the patron saint of lepers, it was built after the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 wiped out 10 percent of the city's population.
Jack White's Lazaretto is the White Stripes/Dead Weather/Raconteurs main man's second solo album. Like its 2012 predecessor, Blunderbuss, it takes its name from a polysyllabic word intended to send you to the online dictionary. The title track allows the proudly peculiar White to examine his sense of isolation: "Quarantined on the Isle of Man and I'm trying to escape any way I can," he sings on the title cut, a screeching blues-rock stomp that morphs into a twin-fiddle hoedown.
A master of creating a stylized image for much of his career, White, 38, has made a mess of his public reputation of late. Nasty media reports about a custody battle after the breakup of his marriage to Karen Elson have been coupled with his petty carping about blues-rockers the Black Keys. He took potshots at the fellow Nashvilleans yet again, and a few more at Adele and Lana Del Rey, in a Rolling Stone cover story that has now led to a profuse apology.
Acting the bad guy hasn't meant White has started making bad music, however. Lazaretto is a ripping record that makes use of both of White's bands, the all-male Buzzards and all-female Peacocks. It crackles with idiosyncratic energy, and amid all the bluesman's boasting (in the opening "Three Women") and brainy references to Freud and Nietzsche, it shows signs of humanizing vulnerability and self-awareness.
"I'm becoming a ghost, so nobody can know me," the pasty-faced songwriter sings in "Alone in My Home," and when he confides that "I want to cut out my tongue and let you hold it for me" in "Black Cat Licorice," he's acknowledging he sometimes would be better off keeping his mouth shut. Which he does, to scintillating effect, on the thrillingly inventive instrumental "High Ball Stepper."
- Dan DeLuca
A Letter Home
(Third Man/Warner Bros. ***1/2)
Why we love Neil Young: After spending an inordinate amount of time and money obsessing over his audiophile digital music service Pono, set to launch this year, the iconoclastic Canadian goes to Jack White's Third Man studio in Nashville and records a hissing, low-fidelity album of covers in a phone-booth-sized Voice-O-Graph recording machine. The earnest conceit is disarming: The album, which includes versions of songs by Tim Hardin, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, Gordon Lightfoot, Ivory Joe Hunter, and Bert Jansch, is framed as an audio missive to his late mother, whom Young tries to prod to stop fighting with and start talking to his dead father again. The poor sound quality can be annoying, but just as White turned the limitations of playing in a duo with the White Stripes into an asset, A Letter Home's stripped-to-the-bone simplicity in most cases allows Young to cut to the emotional core and turn songs he didn't write into personal statements.
- Dan DeLuca
Top Albums in the Region
This Week Last Week
Locally Nationally Locally
1 1 ColdPlay Ghost Stories 1
2 5 Austin Mahone The Secret EP -
3 3 Mariah Carey Me. I Am Mariah...The Elusive Chanteuse -
4 4 Various Artists Frozen 4
5 7 Michael Jackson Xscape 3
6 6 Various Artists Now That's What I Call Music, Vol. 50 8
7 8 The Black Keys Turn Blue 5
8 2 Brantley Gilbert Just As I Am 2
9 12 Cher Lloyd Sorry I'm Late -
10 10 Iggy Azalea New Classic 10
SOURCE: SoundScan (based on purchase data from Philadelphia and Montgomery, Delaware, Bucks, Chester, Camden, Burlington and Gloucester Counties). Billboard Magazine 6/14/14 © 2014
In Stores Tuesday
Chrissie Hynde, Stockholm;
O.A.R., The Rockville LP;
Andrew Bird, Things Are Really Great Here... Sort Of;
Hellyeah, Blood for Blood