The White Stripes were both brilliant and a burden for Jack White. It was gimmicky: the color scheme, that whole we’re-brother-and-sister nonsense, the commitment to remaining a two-piece despite the subpar drummer. In a sense, then, White’s first solo album, this year’s Blunderbuss (Third Man/Columbia) is a bit of a coming-out party. He’s finally free to extend himself much more as both a musician and singer; the shifts between the crunch of “Freedom at 21” and acoustic fare of “Love Interruption” show his dexterity. It’s on his own dime — and musical terms — where he consistently shines. Beyond being a talented musician and stellar vocalist, White has created his own sound in an industry of copycats and thieves. Sure, there is a massive debt to be paid to both Chicago and Delta blues, though it’s hard to imagine any of those old-timers making a song about eating 16 crackers sound as cool as White does.
RUNNERS-UP: The Black Keys, The Shins, Frank Turner