Just look at the cover…how can this record not be awesome?
On their latest album, Brothers, The Black Keys show that while they helped define the DIY, lo-fi, garage-rock sound that had a renaissance in recent years, they aren’t bound to it. Quite the contrary. True, their first few albums portrayed the Keys as modern-day blues/indie revival shamans, liberating people from the notion that big record labels and bigger budgets don’t = better music. But the duo, singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach & drummer Pat Carney, have taken the success of their last album, Attack and Release, with its somewhat adventurous attitude and slick Danger Mouse produced tracks, as a signal to really open the flood gates and show off some new studio tricks.
It’s obvious from the material that there’s been a lot going on in the Akron duo’s personal lives. Auerbach stretches deep inside and pulls out a truly emotional and honest vocal delivery while Carney sticks to what he’s best at, laying down a solid, simple, one-track-mind groove for guitar, organ and string melodies to soar over and dance around. Recorded at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio (slide guitar great Duane Allman recorded there..boom) this album goes down smooth and feels as though it has an old soul, one that’s been weathered and worn but still has enough gritty charm left to entertain.
The band has delved into the realm of early 60s R&B and 70s Soul (check out the falsetto vocals on the opening track) and almost every track has a guitar hook or vocal melody that sticks in your brainparts like NASA-engineered velcro. One new sonic departure (or arrival) for the Keys is the addition of a (at times prominent) silky bass line that slides through many of these tunes. I’m all for it, especially with this material. These simple yet effective bass lines, along with keys and some string orchestration, convey more depth than their usual fuzzed-out guitar and drum assault. The band has taken one soggy, swampy footstep away from Delta-blues homage and moved more towards defining their own sound. All the same pieces are there, but they’ve been re-calibrated to hit harder and resonate louder. Some highlights from the record:
- Everlasting Night: At first you think, “This isn’t a Black Keys record”…then your foot starts tapping
- Next Girl: could have been on Magic Potion…watch the video
- Ten Cent Pistol: Revenge is a dish best served cold
- I’m Not the One: More soul than a James Brown slow jam
No doubt, fans of the Black Keys will quickly adopt this album into the family (and if you haven’t heard Rubber Factory or Magic Potion before…do it now!) but innocent bystanders will have no trouble singing along with the hooks. Still cool enough for the indie hipsters but accessible to blues-rock freaks and lovers of all things vintage, the Black Keys keep getting better.