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The Black Keys, Back to the Roots...

By Shelly Ridenour |

Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney return to the blues roots they revere so much with their hypnotic 10th album...

The Black Keys—childhood friends Dan Auerbach on vocals, guitar, bass and keyboards, and Patrick Carney on drums—found success after forming in Akron, Ohio, and moved to Nashville a decade ago. But geography seemingly has never had much bearing on this duo, who started out playing Mississippi hill country blues and who, now, 10 albums in, have recorded a collection of covers by legends including Junior Kimbrough, John Lee Hooker and R.L. Burnside.

Delta Kream was recorded over just two days with the duo joined by Mississippi hill country guitar specialists Eric Deaton, who backed up Kimbrough until his 1998 death, and Kenny Brown, who Burnside considered his "adopted white son." (The album's name comes from the cover photo, a classic shot by photographer William Eggleston of a car parked in front of a run-down drive-in, the Delta Kream.) It's easy to revert to cynicism when listening to a new Black Keys record: Here's the beer commercial song, the truck commercial song, the sports league song.

This time, the game is: Who did this one inspire? You can detect the low-key Hendrix vibe in Kimbrough's Stay All Night, with its slow-psych guitar and Carney's hard-working but never showy fills, riffs and tambourine punches. Big Joe Williams' Mellow Peaches—woozy organ, loose-limbed rhythm, and a slow build into a (mellow) frenzy—has clear through-lines to the Allman Brothers. The sweltering stomp and serpentine guitar of Kimbrough's Walk With Me surely had an effect on ZZ Top. And, of course, there are plenty of "sounds like Creem" moments: Kimbrough's Come On and Go with Me and a terrific, slinky take on Kimbrough's cover of John Lee Hooker's Crawling Kingsnake, complete with what Auerbach calls "almost a disco riff."

But, more than anything, you hear exactly where the Black Keys' own style has its roots. Burnside's country blues Poor Boy a Long Way From Home exemplifies it with wild, possessed moments when the guitars completely erase the need for vocals. A cover of Rainie Burnette's Coal Black Mattie chugs and nods and struts like a rooster, the guitars sliding all over the place, and would've been right at home on the Keys' great El Camino. (Same goes for Burnside's Going Down South, gussied up with Auerbach's falsetto.) And in fact, Kimbrough's Do the Romp showed up on their 2008 debut The Big Come Up as the delightfully nasty Do the Rump; this time around, it gets a spit-shine makeover that sounds like sexy confidence.


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