Sunday, May 23, 2021

The Black Keys - Delta Kream (Nonesuch Records, 2021)

I was worried for a while during the end of the previous decade that one of my favorite rock 'n' roll bands, The Black Keys, may have run their course. But the fine comeback album Let's Rock got them pointed in the right direction again, and they recorded this follow up album in a couple of easy sessions at the end of their last tour. The Black Keys remain Dan Auerbach on electric guitar and vocals and Patrick Carney on drums with assistance on this project from Eric Deaton on electric bass, Kenny Brown on electric guitar, Sam Bacco on percussion and Ray Jacildo on organ. Mississippi Hill Country blues has been a big influence on the group from the beginning, going so far as recording the Junior Kimbrough EP Chulahoma in 2006. They stay in Mississippi for most of this covers album, but begin with a track from the Clarksdale native John Lee Hooker, his classic "Crawling Kingsnake." Playing against type, they stay away from their patented garage rock charge, instead reaching out into easy loping groove based around a steady Hooker like beat, with Auerbach interpreting the lyrics and stretching his vocals without reaching. Another Hill Country lifer, R.L. Burnside, wrote "Poor Boy a Long Way from Home" which is a perfect vehicle for the band to follow, setting up a rolling beat and adding sparks of guitar and declarative vocals. The group has studied the blues enough to internalize their forms and mannerisms, all while maintaining their individuality. The deep droning blues like the Burnside vehicle "Goin' Down South" approaches the desired trance like simplicity, with organ supplying extra sauce. "Coal Black Mattie" moves into the hypnotic level of focused percussion and guitar that is indicative of the Hill Country style. Auerbach digs deep and delivers a very emotional vocal appropriate to Kimbrough's "Sad Days and Lonely Nights." This is the deepest of blues and they play it well, with no pretense or affectation. There are not a lot of bands that could pull of a blues cover album, although many may try. The Rolling Stones made a very good nod to their Chicago blues idols in 2016 with Blue and Lonesome, and The Black Keys have made an equally good hat tip to their Mississippi blues forefathers. Delta Kream -

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