The White Stripes – Self-Titled (12″ Vinyl) Reissue

While many were listening to Kid Rock and the Offspring in 1999, The White Stripes quietly released their debut album, “The White Stripes,” on the independent label Sympathy for the Record Industry. On November 30, 2010, Jack White released their self-titled album on 180-gram vinyl through his Third Man Records label. White proudly announced the album was remastered in analog from the original analog recordings, exciting all true audiophiles. Also, if one was lucky enough, one could randomly receive a special limited-edition split-color, red and white vinyl. I wasn’t one of the lucky ones. Sigh.

In a 2004 interview with Guitar World magazine, White admitted, “I still feel we’ve never topped our first album. It’s the most raw, the most powerful, and the most Detroit-sounding record we’ve made.”  And true to White’s word, the White Stripes debut album is raw and, at times, a bit standoffish, in an attractive sense. There is a minimalist quality to most of the album. In the opening track, “Jimmy the Exploder,” the first sounds we hear are Meg’s elementary drums punctuated by Jack’s now trademark riffs. The song almost has a lo-fi feel to it—one can imagine Lou Barlow constructing a similar tune.

One of the strongest pieces on the album is the cover of Robert Johnson’s 1938 “Stop Breaking Down.”  Unlike the Rolling Stones harmonica-filled, piano infused, Keith Richard-less 1972 cover, White’s version is convincing and passionate; he captures the passion and desperation of Johnson’s song while still adding his own flair. This is the one of the first times one can see Jack and Meg becoming the band they have become. White has confidence in his Johnson cover, so confident that it is the second track on the album—a bold move.  Moreover, White’s been known to perform Johnson’s tune in concert on an organ, further proving his understanding of Johnson’s work.

The most attractive aspect to the record is White’s ability to seamlessly mix and infuse the blues with garage rock, pop and punk on tracks like “Wasting My Time” and the one minute, thirty second “Sucker Drips.” This is where Meg’s importance to the red and white equation comes into play. Her simple approach to drumming balances the band; she keeps White in check and unknowingly adds to the inherent charm of the band.

If I’m being honest, due to the somewhat low production values, a few of the songs sound much better live than in the studio. YouTube tracks like the dirty, Detroit sounding “Cannon,” the playful “Astro,” or the raucous and self-deprecating “When I Hear My Name,” and one will see my point. Performed live these tracks are sped up, personalized and even menacing. I love Jack and Meg’s understood interaction on many of their live performances of “Cannon,” especially on the 2007 Paris performance at Studio Canal. It’s a sexy song with guts– a soundtrack to being kicked out of the Garden of Eden, but on the album, one doesn’t sense this. The stiffness of some of the tracks is probably due to the band’s uneasiness and lack of confidence in their obvious talent. The improvement of these pieces in their performances can be attributed to simple repetition of the songs night after night and, of course, Jack and Meg’s eventual and well-deserved success.

The White Stripes reissued self-titled debut is a thing of beauty—well worth the wait for the band to reissue it on 180-gram vinyl. It’s definitely not common for a band, post- 1960s, to include three diverse cover songs on a debut album or on any non-B-side filled release and experience any kind of artistic and commercial success. Speaking of covers, I’m not sure where the song fits in to the White Stripes body of work, but I would have loved to have seen the inclusion of the unique cover of Screaming Lord Sutch’s shock rock classic “Jack the Ripper.” I’m hoping they include a studio version of this song on an official release in the near future.

Nevertheless, in 1999, while most were imitating Limp Bizkit and/or buying into Kid Rock’s fairground music, at Ghetto Recorders studio in Detroit, Michigan, Jack took his extensive musical knowledge, along with Meg’s soft ambition, and rewrote the rules of rock ‘n’ roll. Five albums later the red and white twosome have lived to tell about it.

January 8, 2011. Albums. Leave a comment.

The Thornbills – “Uncle Andrei” (7″ Vinyl) – Third Man Records

Jim Wiegand III and Tamara Finlay are cousins from Ann Arbor, Michigan. The musical twosome have made music a family affair and released a 7” single, “Uncle Andrei,” on Jack White’s Third Man Records. The crafty cousins harmonize on side A’s “Uncle Andrei,” a folky ode of a boy taken from home and made to wander told over a hypnotic, Eastern European waltzy beat. Finlay leads the song with her intriguing voice, telling the mysterious story of an uncle’s vague abduction.

Side B’s “Square Peg” is a charming tune slightly reminiscent of fellow Michigan musicians, His Name is Alive. Finlay’s vocals are smooth and convincing while bouncing over Wiegand’s simple strumming guitar, punctuated by an occasional wail of a violin. Also, Jack White lends a well-placed kick drum to the track.

The Thornbills have a unique charm that forces you to listen to their ethereal songs. These Michigan cousins have the talent and likeability to become the folk equivalent of the White Stripes. “Uncle Andrei” is a tease that leaves me demanding a full length LP from the Thornbills, with or without White’s kick drum.

January 7, 2011. Albums. Leave a comment.