Spin Control


May 21, 2006



The Raconteurs, "Broken Boy Soldiers" (V2) ***1/2

With his main band the White Stripes -- still a going concern, we're assured -- much has been made of Jack White's devotion to a strict minimalist aesthetic of his raw guitar and bluesy vocals, ex-wife Meg's primal pounding and very little else. But this emphasis on the sound negates the strength of the songwriting, which is really what makes the group great. So in addition to being a busman's holiday by a quartet of old friends, and a exercise in exploring a different genre -- with a '60s/garage take on paisley pop replacing the White Stripes' '60s/garage take on the blues -- the debut by the Raconteurs seems designed to underscore the depth of Jack's pop genius.

To be sure, this is an old-school indie-rock democracy: White evenly splits songwriting and lead vocal duties with fellow Detroiter Brendan Benson, long an underground hero on the power-pop scene, and both have been stressing the importance of bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler (both members of Cincinnati's Greenhornes, as well as veterans of the band White put together to back Loretta Lynn). But White has always played nicely with others -- remember that he did time in the goofy country outfit Goober & the Peas before the White Stripes -- and he's always elevated anyone he's worked with, from Meg to Lynn to Goober. So it's no surprise that his contributions shine, or that the whole disc is an infectious, enthusiastic, hook-laden joy.

Like the White Stripes, the Raconteurs aren't interested in reinventing the wheel; they just want to deliver a set of memorable tunes, most of 'em about girls, and all of them reveling in the joys of their chosen genre. With 10 tracks whizzing by in a little over 33 minutes, you can pay strict attention for the lifts from the Raspberries, Zombies, Kinks, etc., or you can simply turn yourself over to the pleasures of songs such as "Steady as She Goes," "Hands," "Together" and "Store Bought Bones" and enjoy.


T Bone Burnett, "The True False Identity" (Sony) *1/2

There's no denying that T Bone Burnett has a heck of an impressive resume. But his first set of original material since 1992's "The Criminal Under My Own Hat" illustrates that he's best at crafting straightforward, honest settings for other artists, while simultaneously highlighting their individual quirks.

Left to his own devices, Burnett's fondness for his own quirkier tendencies overpowers his otherwise simple, bluesy songs and the sympathetic backing of an impressive band that includes drummer Jim Keltner, bassist Dennis Crouch, keyboardist Keefus Ciancia and guitarist Marc Ribot, best known for his work with Tom Waits. "The True False Identity" has the same problem that plagues much of Waits' work: the sense of a pretty ordinary guy jumping around, screaming, "Ain't I weird!?" Witness the annoying clatter of "Shaken Rattled and Rolled," the comic sobriety of "Fear Country," and the exaggerated Old Testament heaviosity of songs such as "Palestine Texas" and "Blinded by the Darkness," where T Bone's humanist politics rub up against his devout Christianity with preachy results.

My biggest complaint, however, is that an album that tries so hard to be strange shouldn't wind up being such a slow, sleepy, mid-tempo bore. In that regard, Burnett brings to mind Daniel Lanois, another studio great who falls short of the mark when recording himself. Producer, heal thyself.