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Review: The Raconteurs venture to new places on 3rd album

FILE - This April 1, 2019 file photo shows Jack White performing at Loretta Lynn's 87th Birthday Tribute in Nashville, Tenn. The new album, "Help Us Stranger" is set to be released Friday, June 21, 2019. (Photo by Al Wagner/Invision/AP, File)

The Raconteurs, “Help Us Stranger” (Third Man Records)

Often a band is defined by its strongest member. A lead vocalist pushes to the front while the rest of the group fades behind.

For The Raconteurs, this is not the case. Jack White may be the most popular band member (and the most distinctive vocally), but each is essential on “Help Us Stranger,” the foursome’s first album since 2008.

While White is known for his many projects — The White Stripes, The Dead Weather and his solo career — The Raconteurs is White at his strongest, with songwriting help from Brendan Benson, who only propels White’s inventive, genre-bending style. They are backed by bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler, two musicians who can’t be underestimated.

“Don’t Bother Me” is just the kind of song you’d hope to hear from a band known for pushing boundaries. Its frantic musical composition matches the chaos that the lyrics sketch out: “Your hidden agenda/You ruthless rule bender/Your surface duplicity/It’s all nothing new to me.”

“Shine the Light on Me” is similarly experimental. The track starts with whirling, distorted notes before harmonies pour in an almost Queen-like manner. Benson’s voice smoothly intertwines with White’s before fat piano chords clamour over the track as he sings, “When you’re searching in the dark/It doesn’t matter if you’re blind does it?/Can’t you see?”

Overall, the 12-track set never disappoints. Each song is unique and vital. From the angst of “Don’t Bother Me” to the weighty “Thoughts and Prayers,” with its searing violin and Nashville soul and blues influence, “Help Us Stranger” is a rock ‘n’ roll album that is not afraid to venture to new places.

Ragan Clark, The Associated Press