In first solo album, Jack White taps a blue vein
FILE - In this June 24, 2011 file photo, Jack White signs copies of the record he made with Stephen Colbert in New York. The former White Stripe has released his first solo album, “Blunderbuss." (AP Photo/Charles Sykes, File)
NEW YORK (AP) — Jack White is musing on his latest color scheme.
"What if blues musicians like Robert Johnson and Blind Willie McTell actually wore blue clothes?" White wonders, laughing.
The former White Stripe has bathed his first solo album, "Blunderbuss," with a pale blue palette. It informs the album artwork, the touring stage presentation and the outfits of his backing band, which alternates between all-male and all-female lineups.
Since he was a teenage upholsterer in Detroit, White has carefully color-coordinated his work. While recording "Blunderbuss" in his studio in Nashville, Tenn., White played on a pale blue telecaster and an old pale blue amplifier.
"I said, 'Well, these are my hand tools. It's all going to build up from this,'" says White.
The resulting 13 tracks may be the best compendium yet of White's particular blend of American music. There's electric rages ("Sixteen Saltines"), country blues ("Trash Tongue Talker"), rockabilly (Rudolph Toombs' "I'm Shakin,'" the lone cover) and folk ballads like the lilting "Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy."
After funneling his songwriting through various band conceptions — the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, the Dead Weather — White is directing his latest production without artifice. Or at least, less artifice.
"The funniest thing is that every album I've done and every band I've been in have been happy accidents, including this one," says White, speaking from his home in Nashville. "If you just write songs and don't tell them what to be — don't tell the song to be a country song or a rock 'n' roll song — then it becomes what it needs to be in the end."
"Blunderbuss," which debuted on the Billboard album charts this week at No. 1 with about 138,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan, was particularly unplanned. When the rapper RZA didn't make it to a scheduled session at White's studio, White decided to start working up some songs of his own. It wasn't until well into the process that those in the room — a collection of session musicians and others — understood the project taking shape.
"I didn't know we were actually making a solo record until he started wanting to sing on it," says engineer Vance Powell, who's frequently worked with White. "There was never any conversation: 'OK, we're going to start my solo record today and I want it to sound like this.'"
Instead, White worked in the orchestrating mode he became accustomed to while producing dozens of albums and singles for his label, Third Man Records.
"Doing it to my own song was something brand new," he says. "When you're in a band, if I'm in the Raconteurs, I don't walk around the room and tell everyone what to play. I say, 'Here's my song' and the drummer plays what the drummer wants to play. I don't tell people what to do."
Third Man prizes analog recording and limited-edition vinyl releases. It has released everything from a single by Tom Jones (the recent "Evil") to a track for the Alabama Shakes (the southern rock sensation that will join White on tour) to an album by Karen Elson (White's ex-wife and mother to their two children, who also sings back-up on "Blunderbuss").
"He pushed me real hard but I think he pushed me right into the 21st century," says the 74-year-old Wanda Jackson, whose "The Party Ain't Over Yet" was produced by White. "I would liken him to a velvet-covered brick. He's going to get his way."