Michael Kovac/WireImage

A stripped-back, career-spanning set shows off the guitarist's gifts as a folk-blues songwriter.

September 08, 2016 at 02:49 PM EDT
We gave it an A-

Being a man of many jaunty talents, Jack White can well afford to strip some away to let inner lights shine. On his first career-spanning collection, he foregoes the whale-sized riffs and amp-driven flash of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, the Dead Weather, and his ongoing solo career that have all served as attention-grabbing billboards of his gifts.

Indeed, White holds plenty back on his generously exquisite Acoustic Recordings. Chronologically presenting 26 songs across two discs, the set gathers album tracks, soundtrack cuts, alternate versions, and remixes from nearly every stage of his career, from 1998’s “Sugar Never Tasted So Good,” B-side of the White Stripes’ second single, to selections from 2014’s solo Lazaretto. Omitting only his Dead Weather contributions, it showcases White as the meticulous and often disarmingly sincere folk/blues songwriter, not the entertainingly mannered rocker.

As such, it’s consistent in tone and quality, despite its many sources. “Sugar” may be tentative, but on “Apple Blossom” and “I’m Going to Pack It Up” — both subtly remixed from the Stripes’ De Stijl — he already finds his aesthetic footing. By 2002’s “We’re Going to Be Friends” from his duo’s star-making White Blood Cells, he settles into a sweet spot of mystery and warmth untouched by his garage band peers.

Despite the occasional outside producer, like Beck on 2007’s ragged B-side “Honey, We Can’t Afford to Look This Cheap” or T Bone Burnett on 2003’s bluegrass Cold Mountain soundtrack cut “Never Far Away,” Acoustic Recordings spools along as if conceived as a work unto itself, not a crazy quilt of quiet odds ‘n’ sods. Rhythm is downplayed, often to stellar effect: An eerie acoustic mix of the Raconteurs’ “Carolina Drama” generates more turmoil with less instrumentation. He’s done that ever since the Stripes’ earliest wails, but here White definitively proves he doesn’t even need drums to convey the tension of hearts beating out of time.

Key Tracks

“We Are Going to Be Friends”

Possibly the greatest-ever song about childhood BFFs.

“City Lights”

Written for the Stripes’ 2005 album Get Behind Me Satan but not finished until this year, White’s gentle lullaby twinkles like its titular subject.

“Love Interruption”

White captures the brutality of love gone wrong in 2012’s slow-burning (and not entirely acoustic) soul duet with future superstar Ruby Amanfu.

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