Help Us Stranger
(Third Man ** ½)
The arrival of a new Raconteurs album — the first in 11 years — is cause for anticipation if not celebration, not because the world is starved for more post-White Stripes Jack White content. The blues guitarist and willfully weird rock-and-roll showman has released three solo albums and three more with his side project the Dead Weather in the years since 2008’s Consolers of the Lonely. What’s tantalizing about Help Us Stranger is rather that it offers less White, rather than more. The Raconteurs are a full-on songwriting partnership between White and fellow Michigander Brendan Benson, a power-pop craftsman of the highest order with an unjustly underappreciated solo career. At its, best his collaboration with White results in more melodically enticing material than White is liable to muster on his own. That effect is occasional achieved on Help Us Stranger, on tracks like the thrilling, Beatle-y “Sunday Driver” and smug, catchy breakup song “Now That You’re Gone.” And a cover of Donovan’s “Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness)” adds to the slightly psychedelic retro rock party. But Help Us Stranger rarely manages to equal more than the sum of its parts, and instead winds up sounding less tuneful than a Benson record and less furiously unhinged than a White solo album. — Dan DeLuca
Close to Home
Chuck Mead made his name as the front man for BR5-49, a freewheeling Nashville group that gleefully thumbed its nose at the Music City establishment while striving to take country music back to its rowdier roots amid all the slickness and shallowness overtaking the industry in the ’90s. You could say the band presaged the current Americana genre.
For his latest solo effort, Mead recorded in Memphis. But Close to Home retains a lot of that old spirit and energy (minus the occasional smug self-consciousness) while showcasing the singer-guitarist’s continuing growth as a writer and performer.
“Big Bear in the Sky,” the cleverly humorous “Daddy Worked the Pole,” and “The Man Who Shook the World” are hard-charging riff-rockers, while “Tap Into Your Misery” is a propulsive country shuffle that’s a worthy addition to the canon of drinking songs. Elsewhere, Mead taps into deeper emotions and tougher truths with numbers such as the Spanish-flavored “I’m Not the Man I Used to Be,” the title song, and the poignantly empathetic “Billy Doesn’t Know He’s Bad.” And he closes with an exquisite slice of openhearted country-pop, “There’s Love Where I Come From. — Nick Cristiano
Revenge of the Dreamers III
At a time when hip-hop stature is designated according to the guest features you have on a song or album, J. Cole has eschewed that premise. Revenge of the Dreamers III remedies that, as Cole gets together with family and friends from the Dreamville label he shares with college pal/manager Ibrahim “IB” Hamad. This freshly made compilation of silken soulful melodies, complex rhythms, and wild flows portrays what occurs when you tell a group of artists to invent something new and free.