Album: Rubber Factory
Artist: The Black Keys
The Black Keys play The Blues. The capitalization is intentional. It's also important, because while there are many bands claiming to play the blues now, few keep their blues as undiluted and well-played as Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney aka The Black Keys. Many of todays so-called blues bands claim to be "revivalists" or "deconstructionists", which really means they're going to play a different type of music with a slight blues influence. Not so with The Black Keys. Auerbach and Carney are just two guys who really like the blues.
Getting to the actual album, the duo (Auerbach on guitar/vocals, Carney on drums and also in the producer's chair) whip up one hell of a racket in the studio. Auerbach has a gravelly, throaty, howl which he uses to full effect throughout the album, whether he's shouting his head off about a lost girl or quietly moaning about, well, a lost girl (okay, so the blues don't exactly have the widest subject matter). Still, both he and Carney are aware of his limited vocal range (a gravelly throat only takes you so far), but they easily work around it. Carney occasionaly buries Auerbach's voice in the mix, but more importantly, Auerbach's voice isn't his main form of expression.
No, like any good bluesman, Auerbach really expresses himself with his guitar. He's constantly able to shift styles from song to song and always able to express the right emotions with it. He can conjure up dark atmospheres on the opener "When The Lights Go Out", play funky tones with sudden stabs of distortion on "The Desperate Man", play gentle acoustic guitar on ballad "The Lengths", and everything in between. Through it all Carney keeps a steady beat, never letting his drumming get in Auerbach's way, just providing the kind of solid backbone that The Blues needs.
The Black Keys also throw two covers onto the album. There's "Grown So Ugly", a Captain Beefheart cover, which is played pretty much the way it was, since it was a blues track to begin with, and "Act Nice And Gentle" by The Kinks, which is turned into southern-tinged pop-rock.
All-in-all this is probably the best blues album of the new millenium thus far.
Highlights: "10 A.M. Automatic", "The Desperate Man", "Act Nice And Gentle"
By P. Segal