July 9, 2017

The drums of Gone beat the Battle Cry guitar, and other Blue Series surprises

A week or so ago, Third Man Records released a new Blue Series single from a Scandinavian duo named My Bubba (the group name is their names-- My Larsdotter and Guðbjörg "Bubba" Tómasdóttir).  I assume most people who read this blog know what the Blue Series is, but for those who don't the in-a-nutshell description is that it's a series of singles produced by Jack White, by bands and musicians that strike his fancy and who are able record a couple of songs in a single day in his studio.  They're of diverse genres and  are nearly always bands and musicians I've never heard of before.  There was a time when a single like this one would've barely registered on my radar, I would've acknowledged the news and sat back to wait for the next thing to come down the pike. But, as I've talked about before, I'm more adventurous musically than I used to be, and the announcement said the b-side of this Blue Series was a cover of Bob Dylan's You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, which is one of my favorites from Blood On The Tracks. So, yadda yadda yadda, I ordered it and when it arrived I ripped both sides for the car, putting them in a folder on my flash drive that included another song released earlier this year by Third Man that you may've heard of, called Battle Cry.

Backing up a bit-- I felt like I should have been excited when Battle Cry came out in April. It was a brand-spanking new song from Jack, not a collaboration with anyone else, the first new music since Lazaretto was released in 2014!  Granted, it was for a short film advertisement for the Warstic baseball bat company (of which he's co-owner) and walk-up music for Detroit Tigers player, Ian Kinsler. But still... new music!  So many people I know were excited.  But I wasn't.  It's a good song, I do like it. It's the first song on my flash drive playlist, which means it plays when I turn the car on in the morning and hit the road for the commute to work. It's certainly appropriate for that.  But it's a standard "Jack White" song. It fits the context for which it was written and has a great driving rhythm and a terrific guitar solo.  But there are no surprises in it, nothing that hits you from left-field, to borrow a term from baseball.

On the other hand, this subtle and subdued new song from My Bubba, called Gone...  It's surprised the hell out of me.  After listening to it once at NPR's All Songs Considered, I thought it was pretty and pretty lethargic, but bought the single anyway, purely out of curiosity to hear the b-side.  I figured it'd get filed away after a listen or two. But then today, when it came up in the car, it grabbed me so much I hit repeat and ended up listening to it for the majority of the 150 or so miles I drove.

It's the drums, the ones that made NPR's Bob Boilen describe the song as "rumbling". Played by Jack himself under one of his Blue Series pseudonyms, they're the sound that's missing from Battle Cry-- Not a single cymbal crash to be heard anywhere, just tribal rolls and thumps punctuating and giving shape to the hypnotic chant of My Bubba's vocals. Those drums are like the riffles and rapids that break up the inexorable, steady flow of a river, that keep it from carrying you away.  They ground the song and transform it from a trance to a meditation.  And they're unlike anything I've heard Jack play before.  That makes them a surprise and a treat, not just for his playing of them, but also for his choice as a producer to include them.  He could've made a similar choice for Battle Cry and directed drummer Daru Jones to play something like this on that song, but he didn't. He saved that sound for this song, one that many fans may, unfortunately for them, never hear.  He seems to like doing perverse things like that.

The other thing that turns me on is that these little Blue Series production tricks of his make me want to listen to more music by artists like My Bubba, so that I can compare to hear how he's made their music different.  And that has led me so many times to getting into a new musician or group that I probably wouldn't have been exposed to otherwise. It's what's made me, as I mentioned above, more musically adventurous, because I've found that the feeling of discovery and exploration is what stimulates me more than anything else.

As for their cover of You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome, I barely recognized it on first listen. My Bubba slow it down to the point that it only just holds on to Dylan's original melody.  Both on the album and live, Dylan keeps the song uptempo, almost jaunty, so that it's more playful than lonesome.

But there's an ache in My Bubba's harmonies that turns it into a truly regretful lament.

It's kind of what I expected from that first listen to Gone on NPR, but at the same time... it's not. There's a depth there that I completely did not expect. And even though these songs aren't Jack's own music, they're an example of the sort of thing I will always want more of from him-- To be surprised. 

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