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Ear to the Ground: Jack White's "High Ball Stepper"

On the instrumental second track from Lazaretto, White lets his sinister 6-string do the singing.

If you’ve read much about Jack White, it’s not uncommon to come across a few snarky writers who opine that they prefer his guitar playing to his singing. The first single from White’s second solo album, Lazaretto, seems like it was recorded for those very critics: “High Ball Stepper” is an instrumental.

That’s right, rather than employing his typically soulful/grating wails, White lets an effected violin “sing” the leads—but of course it’s his guitar playing that takes center stage. Even if you didn’t see the 2008 documentary It Might Get Loud, you understand the man’s love of vintage distortion and fuzz, and analog waveforms. These all come together at once in this incredible recording.

The track opens with low, growling guitar before a meat-and-potatoes rhythm section rolls us into fragments of backmasked psychedelic leads—a great reminder of why White prefers recording to 2" tape. And his next lead takes us into the realm of you-know-what—if White’s not using a ZVEX Super Hard-On pedal here, it’s safe to assume he’s using something else that’s super hard on his amp. The snarl and bark is so ferocious you can almost smell the tubes’ glass and plastic on the verge of meltdown.

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