Bentley's Bandstand: Jack White, Hiss Golden Messenger, David Axelrod

By , Columnist

Jack White

Jack White, Blunderbuss. Leave it to the White Striper to pull a royal flush on his very first solo album. Accidents like this don't simply happen, however, and it's absolute proof that Jack White is living in some alternate universe where musical sounds boomerang around the atmosphere just waiting to be pulled down and thrown into the gumbo pot. Consider the very definition of "blunderbuss": a muzzle-loading firearm with a short barrel and flaring muzzle to facilitate loading. And boy, does White fire away, assimilating a staggering array of influences to help him tell this tale of emotional eclecticism and endless fanaticism.

Consider just a few: Johnny Jenkins, Dr. John, Fishbone, Floyd Cramer, Little Willie John, the Blasters, Dr. John, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Robert Plant, the Kinks, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, Duane Eddy, Jerry Lee Lewis, Othar Turner, Horace Silver, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Horace Silver, Jake and the Family Jewels, Lee Morgan, Allen Toussaint, Jane's, Addiction, Blues Magoo, Juke Boy Bonner, Tarhell Slim, Frankie Lee Sims, Electric Light Orchestra, Procol Harum, Jeff Beck, Charlie Rich, Mundo Earwood, George Harrison, Leon Russell, Derek and the Dominos, Donovan, Duane Allman, Paul Desmond, Bongo Joe, Jim Ford, Gregory Corso, Ken Kesey and, yes, Father Jack Kerouac.

This is rock and roll for the new century, not looking backward but also not obsessed with sounding like the future. It sounds like it sounds because that's the way Jack White likes it. That is the true lesson to be learned: follow your heart, listen to what's in your head, and then play like you're the only person that will ever hear it. Once that is mastered then it's only a matter of time before lift-off occurs and an adoring audience surrounds you. The blunderbuss, it turns out, is the weapon of the future.

Hiss Golden Messenger, Poor Moon. M.C. Taylor lives in Durham, North Carolina, and from that vantage point is able to chase raccoons, go fishing, and write songs like there are no mirrors. A good thing, no doubt, when it comes to creating the kind of mythical album that doesn't seem to be made much anymore. With musical partner Scott Hirsch, who lives in the wilds of Brooklyn, they make songs from their own time zone. Yes, they owe wondrous debts to the shimmering songs of the Band, say, and the mystical soul of Van Morrison, but Hiss Golden Messenger springs from deep inside Taylor's center, and for that sounds like no one else.

Darkness is a tricky beast, and what at first feels fearful and something to be avoided at all cost can turn into a welcome visitor. M.C. Taylor's songs have a way to accomplishing just that. Despair never really enters into the equation, and while there are religious undercurrents flowing through them, this isn't a preacher. He's most like an experientialist, and a smart one at that. The sessions also include players from Brightblack Morning Light, D. Charles Speer and the Helix, and the Black Twig Pickers, and from those names a pattern emerges of fierce individualists dedicated to playing music which rings true.

For now an album like this can establish its own life. Country soul is a style with fierce advocates, and hopefully they will ring the bell loud and clear one of their own has reappeared. M.C. Taylor and Scott Hirsch may on the surface look like unlikely collaborators, but looks can be deceiving. Deep down they are separated-at-birth believers in the power of simple sounds and infinite depth to go together, and will lead the parade into the light. The message is golden, now and forever.

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David Axelrod's Rock Interpretation of Handel's Messiah. Talk about the plot thickening, David Axelrod has taken one of the heaviest of classical compositions, and surrounded it with electric guitars, a heavenly choir, and a hipness that just doesn't exist anymore. Axelrod himself is in a class all alone, someone who fused rock and jazz and classical and everything else into a breathing cauldron of cool. From producing actual hit albums for Cannonball Adderly to being in the middle of the Electric Prunes' opus "Mass in F Minor," this is someone who will not be contained.

Axelrod's brief but blinding flirtation with fame was in the '60s and early '70s, and he is one of the few musicians of the Los Angeles studio system that could be called a real visionary. He exasperated record labels no end and even when they decided to play ball with the composer and arranger, would end up wondering just what they'd done. Whether it was William Blake or the Old Testament, nothing was off limits in Axelrod's word. There core of albums he recorded from that still cause awe when gathered together now. Messiah leads that charge.

Make no mistake — this is a classical work, composed by George Frideric Handel. The melodies are as gorgeous and daunting as ever, and the way that Axelrod's instrumentation makes the music contemporary is something to behold. But rock and roll this is not, and we're lucky for that. Today, the very idea of the record business allowing this kind of experimentation feels like a total long shot, but because of the adventurousness of reissue labels like Real Gone Music here we have it, "Handel's Messiah" complete with crash cymbals, electric piano and, of course, wailing guitars. Hallelujah to that.

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Bill Bentley got his first drum set in 1965 and still has it. He's been a deejay, record store clerk, publicist, writer, concert promoter, record producer and a&r director, sometimes all at once. He's worked at KUT-FM, Austin City Limits, L.A. Weekly, Slash Records, Warner Bros. Records and Vanguard…

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