By Joe Lowery
On first listen of their older albums, The Black Keys, comprised of Dan Auerbach on guitar and vocals and Patrick Carney on drums, sound like they’re from old school, delta blues-fused Mississippi. The key word is sound. Literally.
The blues-rock duo hails from Akron, Ohio. Yes, you read that right, Ohio. No disrespect intended, though it’s hard picturing a blues band hailing from the Buckeye State. However, that’s just one of many things that make The Black Keys so great.
Their first album, titled “The Big Come Up,” is what started it all. Although the Keys covered Mississippi bluesmen R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough on tracks “Busted” and “Do the Rump” respectively, the duo also created standout tracks “I’ll Be Your Man” and “The Breaks.”
Their sophomore album, “Thickfreakness,” is by no means juvenile. In fact, it is the pinnacle of old school Black Keys (in this case, “old school” being 2003). If there were ever an album to make you think, “Wow, Ohio? Really?” this would be the one. Standout tracks include “Thickfreakness,” “Set You Free” and the once again Kimbrough-covered tracks “Everywhere I Go” and “Hold Me in Your Arms.”
The band started moving into a more blues-rock sound with their next two albums, “Rubber Factory” and “Magic Potion.” However, it was these blues-rock sounds that garnered them more attention and more of a fan base, as several tracks off the “Rubber Factory” album have been included in movies and TV commercials, such as “When the Lights Go Out” featured in the movie “Black Snake Moan” and “Girl is On My Mind” featured in a Zales TV ad. “Stack Shot Billy” is also a notable track.
“Magic Potion” features tracks such as “Just Got to Be,” “Your Touch” and “Just a Little Heat.”
With 2008’s “Attack and Release” album, the band ventured into unknown territory when they collaborated with an outside producer—Brian Burton a.k.a. Danger Mouse —and recorded for the first time in a studio. The band’s previous albums had been recorded in basements and an abandoned factory. Standout tracks include “I Got Mine,” “Psychotic Girl” and “Lies.”
Finally, we come to 2010’s “Brothers” album. If you’re a newer Keys fan, you were probably brought in by the bands first-ever mainstream radio single “Tighten Up.” This track is also the only track on the album once again produced by Danger Mouse. This is the album that launched The Black Keys into a wider audience. Standout tracks beside the single include “She’s Long Gone,” “Too Afraid to Love You” and “Unknown Brother.”
By now if you’re still asking yourself what makes The Black Keys so great, then you need to find out firsthand. If you don’t want to shell out money for an album, YouTube is only a few clicks away. Besides producing most their own music and on the rare occasion having a producer work on an album or track, The Black Keys manage to mix up their sound every few years. Whether they’re playing fast delta blues or slowing the tempo down, they always manage to get you moving.
The Black Keys are a must-listen band. If you’re really into blues, check out some of their earlier work. If you’re into blues and rock, check out “Magic Potion” or “Rubber Factory.” And if you want to see what all the fuss is about, check out the Grammy Award-winning “Brothers” album. Today.