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The deep emotionality of the blues paired with the driving rhythms of rock'n'roll seems to be made for each other. In fact, a lot of well-known rock stars incorporate the coherent, pentatonic scales, which belong to the acoustic flagship of this musical genre, into their music or devote themselves to the bluesy grief in their entirety, but always provided with a touch of rock'n'roll. Led Zeppelin already knew how to maintain the foundation of blues in music in the 1960s, and probably the best-known representative of blues-inspired rock is the Australian band AC/DC, in whose honor an entire street was dedicated in their hometown of Melbourne.
At this point, let's not forget—and above all not despise—the epic beards of ZZ Top, which have recently achieved cult status. But the focus does not dwell on the old guard, which has once again made the blues acceptable and popular for over half a century. Instead, it relies on a duo from Akron, Ohio, which has paid homage to blues rock since the beginning of the new millennium, especially with a particular focus on the raw, untamed emotionality of the songs of recent years: The Black Keys, consisting of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney.
Blues was the godfather for—and forms the basis of—rock and all its different artistic branches. For example, it is often declared among musicians that you have to understand and feel rock in order to be able to play the extreme variants such as hardcore punk and heavy metal convincingly, the same applies to the constellation blues and rock under these conditions.
The Black Keys understand the blues and seem to literally breathe it, which draws like a common thread through their now 11-album discography. From the ultimate rough and bare bones start on "The Big Come Down" and the "Rubber Soul" recorded in a factory, whose first song "When The Lights Go Out" in the feature film "Black Snake Moan" with Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci ensured greater popularity, to the albums "Attack and Release" produced by Danger Mouse, which gave The two blues rockers go with the sounds of modernity with a self-image, but still remain true to their roots, which crystallized clearly again, especially on the last three long players of the band.
While "El Camino" was able to ensure a great commercial success for the Black Keys, especially in Germany, the predecessor "Brothers" already established their star status within their own national borders. Songs like "Tighten Up" and "Howlin' For You" have become an integral part of Auerbach and Carney's catalog. The need for psychedelic sounds is also satisfied on the follow-up to El Camino called "Turn Blue." Here The Black Keys offer an organic, harmonizing mix of many influences, which are mainly articulated by the core components of blues and rock. Typical of the blues is the repeated use of the so-called bottleneck, which describes a metal attachment that is pulled over a finger and then slid along the guitar strings to produce a particularly high, singing tone. In the old days, a bottleneck was made from the neck of a bottle, as the name suggests, but nowadays they are formed from conventional glass and metal.
In addition to the original compositions, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have also released two complete LPs which unabashedly pay homage to their individual influences and offer numerous cover versions throughout. On the one hand, there would be the "Chulahoma" EP from 2006, and on the other hand, the album "Delta Kream" from 2021, which, as the name suggests, serves as a tribute to great blues musicians from the Mississippi Delta, such as the unique "R.L. Burnside."
This is a testament to the dedication of the musicians from Ohio, because obviously they are not too shy to openly state their influences and even pay musical tribute to them several times. The Black Keys have enough respect to give their own personal interpretation to the respective covers and always treat the original artists with esteem and reverence. The band seems to have hit a nerve, because their success curve has not collapsed, which could be due to the fact that lyrically they deal with all-too-real miseries of life such as heartbreak—delivering their stuff straightforwardly, without frills. Especially the soulful voice of Dan Auerbach impresses immensely, and he carries the various songs with a commanding strength, paying homage to the black soul and gospel singers who formed the basis of blues and rock.
On "Dropout Boogie" The Black Keys present a colorful palette of their previous work compressed into 34 minutes of running time. Fast, modern stompers like "Wild Child" alternate with melancholic blues serenades like "Didn't I Love You." The band still sounds fresh and unspent, which is no small feat more than 20 years after the band was founded. As usual, cool and without frills, Auerbach and Carney acoustically review their musical career so far, and are supported by renowned greats of the blues-rock movement, such as the inimitable Billy Gibbons—one of the two epic beards of ZZ Top—who offers his guitar skills on the fifth song of the album.
The album starts strong with the track "Wild Child," which—as already mentioned—is modern and danceable as it blasts from the speakers. Following the opener is "It Ain't Over," where the tempo is slightly reduced and dreamy accents are set with the help of an underlying keyboard carpet. The two following tracks "For The Love Of Money" and "Your Team Is Looking Good" take the listener into the raw, unadulterated-sounding world of dirty blues rock. A very clear reference to the raw energy that still breaks out with The Black Keys from time to time.
Halfway through the record, The Black Keys treat their fan base to the aforementioned guest appearance of one of the blues-rock community's most iconic guitarists on the song "Good Love." His presence is immediately apparent from the powerful guitar run at the beginning of the song—consistently winding its way through the track, hypnotizing listeners, possibly with the help of the Hammond organ, which adds an extra layer to the song. This is followed by the quasi-ballad "How Long," another bittersweet, bluesy declaration of heartbreak, as The Black Keys' discography has it in abundance and which fans worldwide appreciate just as much as the rockier numbers.
"Happiness" marks an equally raw and emotional tour de force, with a hook that burns itself deep into the memory and encourages you to sing along. Immediately after this feast for the ears, the clocks are turned back even further to the early days of rock'n'roll with "Baby I'm Coming Home," which inadvertently closes the bridge to the finale of the album—"Didn't I Love You"—which again completely targets the blues part of The Black Keys DNA, and thus presents an atmospheric conclusion. Ten songs in less than 35 minutes is not a mammoth project, but the time flies by and generates more and more replay value. In short, another successful album from a strong band that shows no sign of fatigue and still rocks like at the beginning of their hopefully long-lasting career.
The summary of the band's career can be drawn as follows: For more than 20 years now, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have enriched the U.S. musical landscape, due to their inherent devotion to the roots of rock'n'roll, which they always preserve. Always daring to experiment tonally, while never failing to pay tribute to the raw melancholy of blues rock and letting it be a common thread throughout their work to date. Bluesrock with heart and soul is the motto of The Black Keys, who simultaneously move with the times and maintain the shadow of the past, and after 11 albums by now, you still can't get tired of their sounds.
If you also feel connected to the roots of popular music like The Black Keys, or simply have a healthy interest in various topics within the world of music, or even focus on modern music production techniques, then mukken.com is exactly the right place to satisfy these needs and more. More features and reviews on bands and albums, for example Ghost or Rammstein, can be found here, as well as insightful professional coaching and guides on singing and production techniques. It's a digital melting pot all about music—because music brings people together.
Originally published on January 18, 2023, updated on March 10, 2023