In 'Acoustic Recordings,' Jack White Winks At Tradition

Sep 12, 2016
Originally published on September 12, 2016 5:18 pm

Every so often, you run across a collection that opens up an entirely new way to think about an artist. Jack White's new, 26-track retrospective, which focuses on his unplugged, less raucous songs, does just that. The unreleased songs, album tracks and B-sides that make up Jack White Acoustic Recordings, 1998-2016 offer a fresh window onto the work of the creative, prolific rock musician.

These short songs show White's delightfully scrambled take on American roots music. He starts out in familiar places — the blues, folk, and bluegrass — but rarely stays put. His tales of small-time hustlers are delivered with a distinct irreverence.

Sometimes White's embracing tradition; at other times, he's mocking it. Almost always, what comes across is a great sense of playfulness and improvisation. Listen to a bunch of these ripping, effortless-sounding songs in a row, and you might pick up on one of White's secrets: He's not afraid to try stuff, not afraid to fail. That makes all the difference.

Jack White Acoustic Recordings, 1998-2016, is available now on Third Man/Columbia Records.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Jack White has just released a compilation called "Acoustic Recordings, 1998-2016." It includes this unreleased song by his old band The White Stripes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CITY LIGHTS")

THE WHITE STRIPES: (Singing) I want to grab a stranger's hand and hold it as tightly as I can. And I will tell by their reaction if they're like me or if I am crazy.

MCEVERS: Reviewer Tom Moon says the compilation is a window into the work of one of rock's most creative figures.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE IS THE TRUTH: ACOUSTIC MIX")

JACK WHITE: (Signing) It's the right thing to do, and you know it. And it's inside of you, so just show it. Love is the truth, and it's inside of you. It's the right thing to do.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: Every so often, you run across a collection that opens up a whole new way to think about an artist. This Jack White retrospective, which focuses on his less raucous, unplugged songs, does exactly that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HONEY, WE CAN'T AFFORD TO LOOK THIS CHEAP")

THE WHITE STRIPES: (Singing) Well, I want to try and hold my head up high in this busted-up Pinto truck conversion between the broken concrete and the cloudy sky. Well, you have to make an effort with me. Can you make it look like you're chauffeuring me? There's enough gas to get us home now if we glide.

MOON: These short songs show Jack White's delightfully scrambled take on American roots music. He starts out in familiar places, the blues, folk and bluegrass, but he rarely stays put. His tales of small-time hustlers are delivered with a distinct irreverence.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ENTITLEMENT")

WHITE: (Singing) I feel like I've been cheating somehow. Stop what you're doing and get back in line. I hear this from people all the time. If we can't be happy, then you can't be too. I'm tired of being told what to do. Yeah, I'm sick of being told what to do.

MOON: Sometimes he's embracing tradition, sometimes mocking it. Almost always, what comes across is a great sense of playfulness and improvisation. Listen to a bunch of these ripping, effortless-sounding songs in a row and you might pick up one of Jack White's secrets. He's not afraid to try stuff, not afraid to fail. That makes all the difference.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON AND ON AND ON")

WHITE: (Singing) The stones in the sky never worry. They don't have to hurry. They move in their own way. But I have to choose what to do, how to act, what to think, how to talk, what to say - on and on, on and on. on and on, on and on.

MCEVERS: Tom Moon reviewed "Jack White Acoustic Recordings, 1998-2016."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON AND ON AND ON")

WHITE: (Singing) On and on, on and on. On and on, on and on. On and on, on and on. On and on, on and on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.