This week, Jack White will release his second solo album, Lazaretto. Out of all the music White has made — and all the classic styles he’s attempted to put his own spin on — Lazaretto is the biggest mixed bag of them all, nodding to classic country, bluegrass, jazz, funk, and naturally, the blues (this is Jack White). Lyrically, the songs nod to White’s own past in a more obtuse way than his 2012 break-up album, Blunderbuss: bad poetry and one-act plays White wrote when he was 19 served as the inspiration for some of the fictional characters we come to meet on Lazaretto. It also features yet another set of collaborators: White’s new backing band.
The benefit of this generation’s most prodigious guitarist getting to pick his backing band is that he staffs it with the most skilled hired hands he can find. But while it may seem like an odd critique to say Lazaretto borders on being too professional, White’s collaborators can help save him from himself. He showed that in the two albums each from his late-2000s supergroups, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, the former featuring Brendan Benson and the latter fronted by The Kills’ Alison Mosshart and Dean Fertita (QOTSA, etc). And, of course, Meg White’s childlike wonder kept White honest and the lo-fi songs wonderfully messy.
White’s own work is only the tip as the iceberg, though. As head of Third Man Records and a producer of legends in need of some modernizing, he’s also proven to be a skillful curator and force behind the boards. He helped kick off Loretta Lynn’s late-career renaissance by lending a hand on 2004’s Van Lear Rose, doing the same for Wanda Jackson a few years later. Baby bands and forgotten cult figures have found a home on one of the only labels to have successfully cultivated a post-millennium interest in physical music, oftentimes with White serving as producer. (See also: that Mozart cover With Insane Clown Posse.)
There’s also his work on high-profile soundtracks, starting with 2003’s T Bone Burnett-produced Cold Mountain soundtrack, which featured White performing original work as well as covers of folk and blues standards. Next came a big honor, as far as soundtracks are concerned: a Bond song. Though “Another Way to Die” featuring Alicia Keys, for 2008’s Quantum of Solace, proved to be an off musical match-up, it signaled that White had arrived as a singular voice in the mainstream: Safe Rock Guy. His cover of U2’s “Love Is Blindness,” for 2012’s Great Gatsby adaptation, was safe indeed, but it’s one of White’s finest solo songs. And so, in honor of Lazaretto‘s release, we’ve put together the essential 36-track, career-spanning playlist on White, starting with the White Stripes’ strong 1999 self-titled debut and ending with the best cuts off his new album.