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The Dead Weather: Sea of Cowards

Artist: The Dead Weather

Title: Sea of Cowards
Release date: May 11
Label: Third Man

I've read more than a couple of references to The Dead Weather as Jack White's third-best band. Hmm. Really? Granted, I've heard only bits and pieces of The Dead Weather's debut record, Horehound, and White's other side project (and, presumably, second-best band) The Raconteurs, but I think Sea of Cowards is pretty great.

No, make that really great. Of the 100 or so records I've listened to in 2010, only a handful have left me excited to hear them again. Sea of Cowards is one of them.

It's a brief, extemporaneous-sounding, and mysterious collection of cinematic, menacing, and bound-for-Hell blues tunes.  

As you might expect, White is the star on Sea of Cowards, singing lead on many of the songs and sharing lead vocals with The Kills' Allison Mosshart on the others. And when they do sing together, their vocal interplay is explosive. Mosshart rarely gets the mic all to herself. But when she does come in, her gutsy voice is both soulful and tortured. Even though White technically the drummer in The Dead Weather, his blistering guitar-playing is all over Sea of Cowards. White is clearly running the show here, and that's okay. When he cuts loose, he's at this best, and this is the best White record since 2003's Elephant.

Heavily influenced by Led Zeppelin, hard rock, Bo Diddley's Black Gladiator era, and desperate blues, The Dead Weather has tapped into a weird sort of alchemy. And they've whipped up a the best combination of heavy, funky, sexy, and dangerous that I've heard this year. What that formula is, it's a highly unstable compound, as all the best rock 'n' roll is.

Best song: "Die by the Drop," but there is no filler here.
Rotation: Heavy
Deja vu: The soundtrack to a blaxploitation movie.
I'd rather listen to: Bo Diddley's Black Gladiator and White Stripes' Elephant, but nothing from this year.
Grade: A

"Nothing Not New" is a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 40-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.

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