Pilgrim’s Playlist: Jack White, Michael Kiwanuka, Nina Simone

Recommended New Albums

Jack White – Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016

I put this album on expecting a bunch of acoustic guitar song demos, but was pleasantly surprised to discover it’s a collection of mostly officially-released recordings from throughout Jack White’s career — all the “soft” stuff without the power chords. But knowing some of these songs, you know it’s a lot punchier than your every day, run-of-the-mill acoustic collection.

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There’s a wide mix of instrumentation, including some electric guitar solos, that keep the sonic repetition very low. For me, White’s exuberant forays into country, blues and rock styles are reminiscent of the powerfully intimate grooves on the Stones’ Exile On Main Street, another collection that was conceived and recorded by some relaxed musicians in a big room in a big house.

This is an album your own mother might enjoy, until she gets to the line from “Love Interruption”: ”I want love to murder my own mother and / Take her off to somewhere like hell or up above.” But Mom’s got to know that that is essential Jack White. A brilliant songwriter with the gifts to amuse, and astound, and even shock his audience with his words and music, time and time again.

I will go further. These stripped-down songs help you to appreciate how great Jack White really is. In my book he’s right up there alongside the Bruce Springsteens and the Neil Youngs in terms of songwriting prowess, a lofty place in the Rock Firmament for sure. Listen to this album, and see if you can argue otherwise. Here, listen to “City Lights”, the only previously unreleased song from the collection, and tell me this isn’t a great piece of writing.




Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate

Michael Kiwanuka’s 2012 debut album Home Again was a comforting retro folk/soul/jazz offering made appealing by the honey-smooth goodness of Kiwanuka’s voice. Think of a Richie Havens record without Havens’ raspy growl but instead a more youthful cadence that hinted at Kiwanuka’s British-African roots. The songs were of the quality you might expect from a debut album – adequate and workmanlike, but ultimately the weakest part of the entire presentation. I lost interest after a couple of weeks of intense listening.

Well on his sophomore album Kiwanuka has opened the creative doors and upped the ante considerably. Onto his base sonic palette he has added elements of prog, R&B and hip hop, while the songs themselves are more committed lyrically and more complex musically, making this one of the more interesting records I’ve heard all year. It’s almost a rule of thumb for me: the more difficult a record is to assign into a genre category, the better it is likely to be.

Certainly some of the credit for Kiwanuka’s turnaround goes to his co-producer Danger Mouse, of Gnarls Barkley, Beck, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Black Keys and Broken Bells fame. Mr. Mouse often deals in retro sounds himself, and brings a few into play here — like a ‘70s-Soul string section — but the net result is not retro at all. In fact, just the opposite. This record sounds more like the future than it does the past.




One From The Vault

Nina Simone – Suzanne (1969)

One of my favourite Leonard Cohen covers ever. I love the way she builds the song around that sprightly little piano motif, it transforms the song from its usual lament into something more of a quiet, soulful celebration. When you have one of the greatest singers who ever lived taking on the timeless poetry of this song, well you simply can’t go wrong. Its shimmering beauty literally makes me weep every time I hear it, but then again, insurance commercials can bring a tear to my eye too, what can I say?





3 comments to “Pilgrim’s Playlist: Jack White, Michael Kiwanuka, Nina Simone”
  1. Pingback: Top 10 Leonard Cohen Covers | Rocknuts

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