For the last 20 years, the former Akron, Ohio duo that make up The Black Keys have been refining their own take on the blues and R&B influences that are the underpinning of early rock icons like Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton’s Cream. Guitarist and vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney were so enamored with potent musical stylings of Delta blues artists R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough that in the height of the pandemic they recorded and released Delta Kream, with a cover of John Lee Hooker’s “Crawling Kingsnake” as the single. Fresh from delivering the raw blues songs that first led them to plug in and play in their parents’ basements, when The Black Keys came together to write material for this, their 11th studio album, Dropout Boogie, that same gritty, authentic blues feeling pours through their original songs, most noticeably on the string of songs that close out the album. Classic blues rock hooks and big guitar riffs dominate tracks like “Baby I’m Coming Home,” “Burn the Damn Thing Down,” “Happiness” and “Didn’t I Love You,” many delivering that raw vibe of a live jam that harkens back to duo’s earliest indie albums.
Of course, the album’s first single is “Wild Child,” a big, 70’s R&B rooted pop song with a larger than life melodic hook for a chorus and ripping guitar solo by Auerbach. The two get additional songwriting support form Angelo Petraglia (Kings of Leon) and Greg Cartwright (Reigning Sound), while Cartwright assists on another R&B leaning track, “It Ain’t Over,” which has another big hooky chorus. Petraglia contributes to “For the Love of Money,” based on a fast, bluesy riff. In many ways, The Black Keys are working and playing in a world of their own making, strongly rooted in a 70’s pop/rock mindset, where rockers mixed it up with R&B and blues styles, creating songs that worked on the dance floor, but still gave fans of strong guitar solos plenty to listen for.
Like the blues rock jams that play out on the back half of the album, “Your Team Is Looking Good,” finds Auerbach digging into some crunchy guitar tones that transform into some squealing slide for the solo, balanced by Carney’s most impressive drum track, a churning rhythm on the deep tom-toms, turning a high school cheerleading taunt into something meaner, darker, and ultimately a lot more fun. On the big, Southern boogie of “Good Love,” the Keys are joined by ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons, adding his recognizable bluesy tone to mix. In the sad and longing filled “How Long,” a lover wonders how long they’re going to have to wait for an answer to their prayers, but the song’s simple painful echo feels as real as the “beauty in the dying flowers” that the singer is left with. In a world where pop music has abandoned the guitar for beats per minute drum loops and crafty keyboard sequences, Black Keys remind us that music made be people, soulful and from the heart, played skillfully with passion, remains the real deal.
“Wild Child” / “Good Love” / “It Ain’t Over”
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