Monday, September 26, 2011

CD Odyssey Disc 323: Raconteurs

My friend Steve recently commented that he'd like to see some more painted miniatures on this site (my production takes a dip once football season begins). In an effort to deliver to my unwavering fans, I listened to this next album while painting.

Sorry, Steve, still nothing finished, but I'm getting there. In the meantime, more music!

Disc 323 is...Consolers of the Lonely

Artist: The Raconteurs

Year of Release: 2008

What’s Up With The Cover?: Those of you who know anything about Jack White know that he is a lover of early Americana. This cover looks to be an homage to early travelling road shows. Apart from some confusion on where these guys are gonna plug in their instruments, I like this cover.

How I Came To Know It: I had bought the Raconteurs first album back in 2006 and really liked it (I reviewed it way back at Disc 112). "Consolers of the Lonely" was just me buying the new release when it came out.

How It Stacks Up: I have both Raconteurs albums, and while they are both good, I have to put "Consolers of the Lonely" second of the two.

Rating: 4 stars.

Ah, Jack White; the boy loves his side projects, and the Raconteurs is probably his most famous (although I am very partial to the Dead Weather these days).

White is never afraid to collaborate with the best and brightest, and both bands feature Brendan Benson, a solo artist and songwriter who is responsible for writing most of the songs on "Consolers of the Lonely". I don't know anything about Benson, but based on his work with Jack White, I aim to find out.

The Raconteurs have a sound similar to The White Stripes, but with less of a punk sensibility and a bit more southern rock. In many ways the cover is an accurate depiction of the music, which is a modern reimagining of American folk/blues music.

Jack White is a devoted musical historian, and his love for the roots of his music with the White Stripes is very evident on this record. That said, he avoids sounding dated or repetitive on "Consolers of the Lonely". The Raconteurs always manage to sound inspired by earlier music without simply rehashing it, and the music on this album sounds as fresh as anything else from way back in 2008 (a good year for music, incidentally).

Many of the songs tell stories that hearken back to the first third of the twentieth century. In songs like "The Switch and the Spur" and "Carolina Drama" you can feel the dust and dirt of the depression settling into your pores as White spins the tales of the down and out. I particularly like "Carolina Drama" which tells the tale of an abusive family. The song revolves around a single violent episode, but before the action begins in earnest, we have the scene set for us:

"It was a junk-house in South Carolina
Held a boy the age of ten
Along with his older brother Billy
And a mother and her boyfriend.
Who was a triple loser with some blue tattoos
That were given to him when he was young
And a drunk temper that was easy to lose
And thank God he didn't own a gun."

These lines are laced with the threat of future violence, whetting our appetites, while at the same time filling us with dread about what will come (spoiler alert: it is 'death by milk jar' - you'll have to listen to the song to know who gets killed, though).

Musically on this listen, I really noticed the heavy use of a horn section on "The Horn and the Spur". The horns aren't used like to add R&B flavour like the Rolling Stones might have done, but instead shriek out in short, raucous bursts, adding dramatic flair to the songs.

White uses this same effect on the 2007 White Stripes album, "Icky Thump" on the song "Conquest". Overall I prefer "Icky Thump" as a record, but I think the horns are used to better effect on "Consolers of the Lonely". They just seem to fit with the old school sound here.

"Consolers of the Lonely" also feature fiddle and piano, delivering just the right amount of inspiration to the brain's higher functions, offsetting heavily reverbed guitar riffs aimed significantly lower on the anatomy.

Ever the post-modernists, The Raconteurs include the song "Hold Up" where they acknowledge their obsession with the past:

"Had enough of these modern times
About to drive me out of my mind
And you know this, too well
I'm hold up in my little cell"

It is a good song, but I don't feel the need for an explanation halfway through the record - I can come to my own conclusions. This is not the only negative occurence of post-modernism on the album. It also hits the title track, where you can hear Jack White low in the mix saying 'double track that', referencing a guitar riff. It may be a great guitar riff, but don't tell us you're double-tracking it, just do it. I hate that self-referential stuff, even on an album which is designed to sound raw.

Still, these are minor quibbles, and while I had intended to give this record 3 stars, two listens later I realize I can't go less than 4. It is a record I don't put on enough, but I think the only reason is when I want this sound I tend to gravitate to "Icky Thump". As ever, the Odyssey reminds me to look a little deeper and vary it up a bit.

Best tracks: Consolers of the Lonely, Salute Your Solution, Old Enough, Top Yourself, These Stones Will Shout, Carolina Drama

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