Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Black Keys

The Secret Museum
By Jim Webb

Mike –

My sister from New Jersey visited with her husband and three kids around the July 4th weekend. While having a conversation about the music scene with my brother – in – law Brian, he suddenly asked me who I liked that was a newer band. He didn’t want to hear about any of the old groups that I’m listening to, but he pressed me if I liked anything that was current. It did knock me off stride for about three seconds, because I don’t really like much of the newer stuff I’ve heard. After a slight pause I didn’t hesitate in telling him – “I like The Black Keys a lot.” His response was immediate – “Who are they”.

The Black Keys Take Us Back to the Future -

Welcome to a very heavy two man wrecking crew of a band from Akron, Ohio. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney burst out of their basement in 2001 and haven’t let up yet. In a nutshell this is a back to the future mixture of blues rock plus. Mix in a heavy dose of souped up electrified blues riffs with a jigger of Garage rock fuzz, and stir with three minute songs of Punk intensity to wind up with a tall glass of The Black Keys. It’s easy to think they will be unoriginal in their sound, carrying that kind of old baggage with them, but what’s amazing to me is that Dan’s guitar riffs sound remarkably fresh. Blues based rock can quickly turn into clichéd licks and worn out vocal phrases, but they revitalize it with their youthful intensity. The younger Bonaroo crowd likes their straight forward guitar rock (musical cousins to The White Stripes), while the over forty crowd should enjoy Dan’s bringing back the lost art of Jimmy Page style riffing. Their first cd from 2002 titled The Big Come Up has a low fi garage feel, but never gets dull with some solid songwriting as well. This ain’t only blues rock; they’ve gone past that narrow label – how about just calling it good old basic rock n’ roll.


Their core sound hasn’t changed too much through the years, and after getting their first cd I felt compelled to start adding the rest to my pile. Thickfreakness (2003), Rubber Factory (2004) and Magic Potion (2006) are what followed, and their most recent release has producer Danger Mouse adding a sprinkling of organ, piano, and synth to spice up the mix on 2008’s Attack & Release. They are also familiar with and have strains of the Southern blues sound and spirit of Junior Kimbrough and R.L.Burnside in their music, the 2006 ep Chulahoma being a special tribute to Kimbrough. The Black Keys have taken that dull old recipe for blues rock and kicked it up a notch with Auerbach’s fat guitar sound, gritty vocals and Carney’s “less is more” sounding drum style. Dan’s rig (for Rummy in El Prado – this is muso talk for the type of guitar, amp, speaker and pedal/effects that he uses to get “his sound”) gives him a thick Billy Gibbons style punch that I welcomed back onto my stereo with open arms.

The Black Keys are just the latest group to find success blending rock with blues by adding their own special blend of intensity and influences to create some fresh mayhem. Dan Auerbach has said that Led Zep was an influence on him, as well as Devo, Captain Beefheart and Howlin’ Wolf among others. In 2008 blues rock icon and Cream bassist Jack Bruce accused Led Zeppelin of stealing his sound back in ‘69(I know it seems unbelievable that it took Jack 40 years to come up with that, but it’s true). I guess 40 years from now( Jack will be 106 yrs. old) we should expect to hear Bruce bellowing from his local pub stool that Dan & Patrick are really his bastard sons and owed all of their success to him. It won’t surprise me if Jack is still trying to take credit for every riff that came after him, and I also won’t be shocked if The Black Keys are still pounding away in the year 2049. Even if Bruce and The Black Keys are long gone by then, rest assured somebody will still be mixing blues and rock together. Why wait for what that future blues rock moonshine might taste like, we got a bottle of our own 2009 vintage right here to drink. Hey Brian – try some of The Black Keys, it’s got a nice kick to it.
-Jim Webb
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