The Black Keys
The Black Keys have picked up where they left off for their latest effort Brothers, promoting their own brand of stripped-down songwriting. There is an understated, unpretentious approach to their blues. So often, bands are concerned with flashy showmanship and virtuosity that they forget what the blues is about: pain and sorrow. Not here. The earthy, overdriven guitar work of Dan Auerbach evokes images of some ancient tree snaking its roots through primordial, muddy swamps. Indeed, the title “Black Mud” is completely appropriate on track six. Patrick Carney’s drums provide just the right amount of backbeat rhythm without overpowering or imposing. Auerbach’s voice sounds like it would have no trouble fitting into a southern spiritual, even though the duo hails from Akron, Ohio.
While “Tighten Up” may be the one song that listeners instantly recognize from The Black Keys, this album has so much more to offer.
“Too Afraid to Love You” finds Auerbach lamenting and voicing his frustration over his self-imposed loneliness. The song sweeps through a long hallway, echoing and folding back in on itself like ocean waves. This effect surely serves to add to the frontman’s mental anguish. “I don’t know what to do, don’t know what to do. Driving me out of my mind.”
One of my personal favorites, “Sinister Kid,” thumps and bounces along and invites the listener to do the same. One can’t help but picture himself strolling down dirty city streets in his favorite vintage Converse high-tops. “That’s me, that’s me. The boy with the broken halo.” Auerbach reminisces over the childhood that eventually shaped his “tortured mind” as a man.
“Howlin’ for You” and “Black Mud” are both nods to blues legends Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters respectively, highlighting the band’s musical influences. “Never Gonna Give You Up” is a soulful tribute to Isaac Hayes.
Overall, Brothers strips blues back down to what it should be. The raw grittiness might not be as pretty as some fancy fretboard work and sappy crooning (I’m looking at you John Mayer), but it sounds authentic. From the driving, stomping simplicity of “Everlasting Light,” to the swaying, sighing nostalgia on “These Days,” The Black Keys write solid, honest songs.
The Black Keys: www.theblackkeys.com