The Raconteurs (photo by David James Swanson, PR)
Help Us Stranger
Third Man Records
While the Raconteurs were on a hiatus over the better part of the last decade, it seemed that their legacy was going to be built on just two albums: 2006's Broken Boy Soldiers and 2008's Consolers of the Lonely. Whether the band ever completely went away is a subject open for debate. They made the occasional one-off live appearances, paid a visit or two to a recording studio, and reinforced the fact that their future was unclear, at least.
But a full 11 years after their second album, the Raconteurs have released their third, Help Us Stranger. The band members, who are Jack White, Brendan Benson, and Greenhornes members Jack Lawrence (also White's bandmate in The Dead Weather) and Patrick Keeler (who moonlights in Afghan Whigs), again carve out their distinct roles on this new album. White and Benson are the frontmen and guitarists, both share vocals and write the songs, while bassist Lawrence and drummer Keeler are the rhythm section and provide the band's foundation.
On Help Us Stranger, the Raconteurs slip easily into the clothes they wore so well on their first two albums. The band often rocks hard, with chunky wallops and smooth power pop flourishes all delivered with deft precision. On many of the album’s tracks, White and Benson balance each other, as White squeezes off buzzing, squealing riffs to accompany his sometimes manic vocals, while Benson smooths things out with tuneful confections.
The jazzy opening of "Bored and Razed" blows open into a thundering rocker, sending shrapnel flying everywhere. The frantic “Don’t Bother Me” is all adrenaline, with White’s energy raging out of control. “What’s Yours Is Mine” borrows a few ideas from Jimmy Page's book of power chords, while “Shine the Light On Me” comes off like a long lost Queen track. “Sunday Driver” is all bell-bottomed Seventies riffage, back in style, and a bluesy energy ripples through "Now That You’re Gone.”
Not everything on Help Us Stranger is a caffeine rush. The Raconteurs do take the time to breathe, like on “Only Child” and the shuffling “Help Me Stranger,” which imitates a scratchy, skipping 78 RPM platter with Lawrence’s singing like a country crooner from yesteryear.
The album’s epic finale “Thoughts And Prayers” gets its drive from violin and mandolin. Shuffling drums and harmonica introduce the album’s one cover, “Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness),” a Donovan Leitch song that dates back to 1965. In the hands of the Raconteurs, the song broils with a jittery edge, buoyed by Lawrence’s bass and a treated White vocal.
Help Us Stranger was recorded at White’s Third Man Studios in Nashville, Tennessee, with the band handling the production. In addition to guitar, White played keyboards and Benson provided percussion and played harmonica. Besides bass, Lawrence contributed guitar, keyboards and vocals, while Keeler also added some backing vocals. Joining the quartet in the studio were their friends, Dean Ferita, of the Dead Weather and Queens of the Stone Age, on keyboards and guitar, violinist Lillie Mae Rische, her sister Scarlett Rische on mandolin, and Joshua V. Smith on keyboards and backing vocals. The songs were written by Benson and White, except for the Leitch track.
Lovers of guitar-driven rock should rejoice that the Raconteurs are active again. A hibernating bear of a band, it's back and roaring again.
Listen to Eric Holland's interview with Jack White of the Raconteurs on FUV Live on Monday night, July 22, at 8 p.m., EDT on 90.7, also available on demand.