LP Review: The Black Keys Return With “Let’s Rock” – Yes, Indeed!

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I have finally found the rock and roll album for the Summer of ’19. ‘Let’s Rock’ by the Black Keys! Hell yes! Baby, let’s rock!

I was beginning to wonder if we’d get any more rock and roll this year… it’s been thin for those of us who like to hear squalling guitar and big drums. I was also beginning to wonder if the Black Keys were even still a band. It’s been five years since their last album, Turn Blue. I went back recently and listened to that album in the hopes it would break my liking-every-other-album cycle with the Black Keys, but alas I found the album, well, kind of a bummer. And I like sad music, just see my Neil Young collection. The good news about my not liking Turn Blue is it boded well for the new album. I had absolutely loved El Camino, the predecessor to Turn Blue. I don’t know what it is about these guys, they zig and I zag… but we always meet on the next album.

In the interim, lead singer/guitarist/bassist/keyboardist Dan Auerbach released a solo album, Waiting On A Song that was a really strong, “summery” record in its own right, LP Review: Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys) Solo, Poppy ‘Waiting On A Song’. He also produced a host of other artists. I know drummer Patrick Carney also did some producing. And I just read in Rolling Stone magazine, Carney somehow made peace with Jack White who had been reported as hating the Black Keys “for ripping the White Stripes off.” Jack said that Carney came over to his house in Nashville while White was recording with the Raconteurs and loaned him a microphone. Nothing like reaching out with the olive branch microphone. Peace was made. We can’t have rock bands feuding… this isn’t hip hop and there are far too few rock bands left.

I also read on Wikipedia that Auerbach said he prefers creating the music (writing/producing/recording) and had grown weary of touring, which he described as “necessary” after you’ve released an album. He was jamming with Joe Walsh – and let me tell you, I’d love to have been a fly on the wall for that – and Auerbach started to get the itch to play with Carney again… And let me just say as an aside, if Auerbach is producing a Joe Walsh solo album, can I just be the first to say, YES PLEASE!! Carney and Auerbach hadn’t so much as spoken in quite some time… but apparently the chemistry they have ignited immediately. Joe Strummer said it best, “never underestimate the power of the chemistry of four guys in a room.” In this case it’s two guys, but you get my point. And I do mean two guys literally. For the first time in five or six albums, Danger Mouse didn’t produce this record. The Black Keys produced it themselves. The only other musicians on this album are two back up singers, Leisa Hans and Ashley Wilcoxson. I have to assume with that name, Ms. Wilcoxson was teased in high school, but I’ll leave that alone. I should also mention that for the first time in a few records, there are no keyboards on this album… I mean, that’s all you gotta know.

When I saw the album was titled, “Let’s Rock” I assumed there was some epic story where the two guys in the band reunited after the long separation – sort of like when Joliet Jake gets out of jail in the movie The Blues Brothers and is reunited with Elwood while “She Caught the Katy” plays in the background… and one of them looked at the other and said, “Let’s rock,” and they immediately lock into a groove that ended up being “Lo/Hi.” That would have made for a great story. Unfortunately it’s a different story. Apparently the state of Tennessee executed a guy in the electric chair (hence the cover art) for the first time in 14 years. When asked if he had anything to say, the guy just said, “Let’s rock.” Not the story I’d hoped for but in these dark times, perhaps it’s the story we deserve… but I digress.

I liked this album immediately upon first listen, something that doesn’t always happen these days. I will admit, it’s a tad more polished than their earlier work and it sort of glided by on that first listen, almost too quickly. But after hearing it, damn, if the melodies didn’t stick in my head. The rocking “Lo/Hi” and perhaps my favorite track, “Tell Me Lies” would be running through my head when I woke up in the morning. The Rock Chick liked the album as well, but in the interest of full disclosure, she’s always liked the earlier, more raw albums. She really digs the debut, The Big Come Up. I’m beginning to think the Rock Chick may be, unbeknownst to her, like the heroin of the Ramones’ tune, “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker.” The Keys early records sound like they were recorded in a basement with the vocals distorted, almost like they’re running them through the harmonica microphone. Auerbach sang like he had a small dollop of Howlin Wolf in there. It sounds like they taped a microphone to a Marshall amp and turned it up to 11… Believe me I get it, I dig that early stuff too. This may be more polished, but the guitar sound still grabs me.

This album is a predominately a guitar forward upbeat record. It starts off with three great tracks, “Shine A Little Light” (which could have been on Auerbach’s last solo disc), “Eagle Birds” which has a crazy good guitar solo and the first single, “Lo/Hi” (The Black Keys: Fabulous, Dirty Rock New Single, “Lo/Hi”). They take a bit of a left turn with an almost psychedelic ballad on “Walk Across the Water,” followed by “Tell Me Lies” which starts with a slow groove and then builds, drops back to the groove… rinse repeat. I love that track. While the music is rocking and up beat, the lyrics belie a darker, heavier feel. It’s like the narrator of the song is rocking his blues away. “Get Yourself Together” and “Sit Around Missing You” certainly are examples of what I’m talking about. What was it Tom Waits said…”I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.”

This is far from a monochromatic record… don’t think it’s all upbeat rock songs. Most of them are but there are quieter moments. “Breaking Down” starts with a sitar-like sounding little guitar figure. It’s more mid tempo but it chugs along thanks to Carney’s propulsive drumming. “Sit Around And Miss You” is built on an acoustic, strumming guitar. The only track that threw me bit was “Fire Walk With Me.” It’s another great rock song, but the title… are these guys Twin Peaks fans?

I recommend this album as strongly as I can. It’s just a great rock and roll record and perfect for the summer. And… spoiler alert… this is a definite candidate for the B&V best albums of the year. Turn this one up loud and enjoy!

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

The Black Keys: Fabulous, Dirty Rock New Single, “Lo/Hi”

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Just when I thought rock and roll was going to be in trouble in 2019, the Black Keys pop up with a brand new, mind blowing single, “Lo/Hi.” Thank God.

I’ve always had an odd relationship with the Black Keys. Not the Jack White, “they ripped me off” kind of relationship. I get it Jack, White Stripes/Black Keys. I could see where that would make Mr. White a little uncomfortable. It’s all a little too close. Anyway, like the Stripes, the Keys are just two folks, Dan Auerbach on guitar/vocals/bass/keyboards and Patrick Carney on drums. They are the same ilk of bluesy, garage rock that the White Stripes play and that I absolutely love. For some reason, however, I seem to bounce in and out of their orbit.

I pulled up their discography on Allmusic.com the other day and it hit me. I literally like every other album they put out. I loved the debut, The Big Come Up. Who else would have the balls to cover the Beatles, “She Said, She Said?” Thickfreakness, the follow up, left me cold. The album that really pulled me and the Rock Chick in was the third record, Rubber Factory from 2004. For us here at B&V, it’s the gold standard by which we judge all other Black Keys’ records… and by “us” here at B&V, I mean the Rock Chick and me. To illustrate this point, I have to share, when she walked into the music lab yesterday and I played “Lo/Hi” for her, the first words out of the Rock Chick’s mouth were, and I quote, “Awesome, they’re getting back to that Rubber Factory sound.” You can take the girl out of the Rubber Factory, but you can’t take the Rubber Factory out of the girl, I suppose.

Since that album, the Rock Chick and I have purchased every other album they’ve put out. We skipped Magic Potion, only to get back on the bandwagon for Attack & Release. While there were some great tracks on Brothers, specifically “Howlin’ For You,” “Everlasting Light,” and the oft overlooked “Sinister Kid,” the rest of the album didn’t grab me. El Camino for me, was another career highlight. It almost edges out Rubber Factory, but please, for my own safety, don’t tell the Rock Chick I said that. Rock and Roll blasphemy carries a heavy penalty around this place, especially during winter. I was so used to this pattern of one album on, one album off that I didn’t even check out their 2014 effort Turn Blue until recently. It’s like when I was a kid. My brother and I were polar opposites. If he liked a dish my mom made, I’d skip it… Sadly, I used that same logic for Turn Blue. It’s a solid album, and they’re certainly opening up their sound pallet. It might be the album this breaks the cycle for me… I also dug Dan Auerbach’s second album, Waiting On A Song, reviewed on these very pages, LP Review: Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys) Solo, Poppy ‘Waiting On A Song’.

I do have to admit though, I’m like the Rock Chick when it comes to the Black Keys, I like them with a little less polish, a little more raw, if you will. I will admit, it was with a slight bit of apprehension that I hit “play” on the new track, “Lo/Hi.” Was I going to hear a polished attempt at pop or was I going to hear some garage-rock Black Keys? You just never know. My fears were eliminated immediately! “Lo/Hi” comes chugging out of the speakers from the jump. The guitar riff is a giant, greasy slab of rock. It bores into your brain. Carney’s drumming drives the track forward like a galloping thoroughbred whose escaped his trainers. “Run Forrest, run!” I love the first couplet, “Out on a limb in the wind of a hurricane/Down at the bar like a star in the howling rain.” Fuck yes, it’s like “Gimme Shelter.” There’s some nice female back up vocals on the chorus which contributes to the “River Deep – Mountain High” vibe of the song. The guitar solo at the end should come with a warning, “Could Melt Your Face Off.”

The Keys haven’t indicated if they’re putting out an album or if this is a one-off single. It seems all we do these days down at B&V is spread the word on new singles, whilst we wait for new albums to drop. All I can say, a new Black Keys album would be a great addition to a rocking spring… if spring ever comes. This is a must hear, must have single. I love that the Black Keys are keeping the rock and roll flame alive!

LP Review: Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys) Solo, Poppy ‘Waiting On A Song’

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It’s always a curious thing when a member of a well-known band decides to step out of the band and do a solo album. There are several reasons to do so. Sometimes, like Pete Townshend, the performer feels the songs are too personal to record with the band and so decides to do it alone. Sometimes the members of the band just need a break from each other. That was the onus of Freddie Mercury’s ‘Mr. Bad Guy,’ an album I still feel was a bad idea, despite the adoration of critics. The cover art could be considered Freddie’s declaration that he was gay, not that there’s anything wrong with that…it’s just that we never suspected, but that’s another story. Getting out on his own helped recharge Freddie and the resulting music he made with Queen seemed reinvigorated. And let me be clear, I’m a huge Freddie Mercury and Queen fan.

There was a time when audiences weren’t sophisticated enough to understand a “solo” career coinciding with a band they loved. The thought of a Beatle stepping out on his own surely meant the end of the band. Well, OK, that one might have been true. Rod Stewart was the first artist who really seemed to pull off the parallel solo/band thing. He’d release a solo album and a Faces album every year. Although to be truthful, the solo stuff and the success he saw there overshadowed the Faces stuff and eventually tanked that band. And, in truth, Rod had already signed a solo contract before joining the Faces so he really didn’t have a choice in the matter. Other early notable solo careers outside of a band would include Phil Collins at the height of Genesis’ popularity. Some might say Collins’ solo career helped fuel the success of Genesis… but Phil Collins, really? Even I feel like that’s a reach for this blog.

Nowadays, solo careers are pretty much the standard. Yes, they still sometimes mean the end of a band you love (I’m talking to you Gwen Stefani of No Doubt). Most of the time it’s just a chance for an artist to step outside the strictures of working with the same people, and maybe expand their musical palette. Having spent the last week or so listening to ‘Waiting On A Song,’ I can definitely say that is what Dan Auerbach has done. Of course, I’ve had to select my moments when I can put this album on… The Rock Chick is not a fan… I can only listen when she’s not around… and I’m supposedly “the head of the household…” but I digress.

Both the Rock Chick and I are what I would describe as “casual” fans of the Black Keys. I liked their early blues-punk stuff. I’ve always thought of the Black Keys’ early stuff as somewhat monochromatic, which isn’t a bad thing. Consider Picasso during his “blue period.” I thought the high point during that part of their career was the LP ‘Rubber Factory,’ an album both the Rock Chick and I both enjoy. I will say, in subsequent albums the Black Keys did open up their sound quite a bit. ‘Attack And Release,’ a favorite of the Rock Chick, incorporated a number of new sounds and directions. That’s one of the things I’ve really liked about the Black Keys, they keep expanding sonically. I think all of that came to beautiful fruition on their best album, ‘El Camino.’ I will admit, ‘Turn Blue’ left me decidedly cold. I did not like anything on that record. I seem to like every other Black Keys album.

I was aware that Auerbach had already released a solo album previously, but I’d mostly ignored that. Even if I’d listened to ‘Keep It Hid,’ I don’t think that or anything would have prepared me for how different ‘Waiting On A Song’ was than Auerbach’s day job. This is a shimmery, summery, light, upbeat 70s style record that in places borders on soul music or R&B. I heard the first single “Shine On Me,” reviewed here on B&V, and really liked it. It’s what the kids call, “my summer jam.” It’s all acoustic strumming with electric guitar accents. I still just love that tune.

With the Black Keys, it now appears to me, that the caveman, Meg White-like drumming of Patrick Carney drives the sound. Which, I know the Black Keys used to be considered a poor man’s White Stripes, and likely I risk Jack White punching me in the face with the Carney/Meg comparison, but oh, well, there it is. Auerbach couldn’t sound further removed from the Black Keys sound than he does here. There is a diversity of sound, and a difference that astounds me. With Carney behind the kit, Auerbach has to play a more aggressive, loud guitar as counterpoint.

With ‘Waiting On A Song,’ where to begin…. “Malibu Man” sounds like something from a 70s Bobby Darin album. It’s a great tune, all shimmery pop. “Livin’ In Sin,” a phrase I haven’t heard since my father forbid my uncle from sharing our guest room with his live-in girlfriend, now my aunt, is a great song. But even that phrasing, “Livin’ In Sin” has a 70s feel to it. This whole album feels like an homage to shiny, happy 70s rock and roll. “Never In My Wildest Dreams” is a beautiful little song, which starts out sounding like Jack Johnson. I never thought the guy behind the Black Keys would sound like Jack fucking Johnson, but it works.

The last track, “Stand By My Girl,” may even outpace “Shine On Me” for my favorite. He sings, “I’m gonna stand by my girl, because if I don’t she may kill me…” Which could be my theme song here at the house. “King of A One Horse Town” starts off like a funky, porn-movie riff, and then turns into a longing, sweetly sung chorus. It reminds me of my time living in Ft Smith, Arkansas… talk about your one horse towns…

I know Auerbach has worked with a wide selection of different artists. He’s clearly brought all that back with him into the studio for ‘Waiting On A Song.’ The title track is all about creating new music, which this guy does in spades here. I really like this record but be forewarned, this is nothing like the Black Keys. This is light and more pop-oriented. Frankly it’s a perfect album for summer and laying out by the pool with a cold beer in your hand, watching tanned bodies stroll by. Which frankly, doesn’t sound like a bad idea….Turn it up loud and be sure to use your sunscreen.

Cheers!

Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys): “Shine On Me,” The First Single From His New Solo LP

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Last week while I was checking out the new single from the upcoming Lindsay Buckingham/Christine McVie album, I happened to notice that Dan Auerbach has a new solo album coming out, his second one. I also noticed the first single, “Shine On Me” had been released. I couldn’t help but think, as the bourbon drinking cynic in me popped out, “just what the world needs, another Dan Auerbach solo album….” Despite my initial reservations, as your intrepid musical spelunker, I felt compelled to check this new tune out.

I’ve always run a little hot and cold on the Black Keys. I really dug ‘Rubber Factory,’ but then ‘Magic Potion’ left me cold. ‘Attack and Release’ grabbed me, and I probably like that record more than ‘Rubber Factory.’ Early on I would have said the Rock Chick was more into ‘Attack and Release’ but now I think the tide has turned and she’s more into ‘Rubber Factory.’ I will admit, I would probably say ‘El Camino’ was my favorite Black Keys’ album. But yet again, the follow up, ‘Turn Blue’ did absolutely nothing for me. At the end of the day, I guess I just have to admit I’m more of a White Stripes guy than a Black Keys guy. Not that I’m trying to get in on that feud. This doesn’t have to be a Stones vs Beatles thing… you can dig both. There’s no Superman vs Batman thing going down here at BourbonAndVinyl… we’re lovers not fighters.

I picked up this Dan Auerbach song, “Shine On Me,” and damn if it’s not catchy. This is nothing like the sludgy, bluesy stuff I’ve come to expect from the Black Keys, his day job. This song is as close as you can get to capturing sunshine in a recording studio. It immediately hit me on the lower brain stem. With its ringing acoustic guitars and insistent electric guitar counterpoint, I have to admit, it sounded more like “Go Your Own Way” era Fleetwood Mac than Lindsay Buckingham’s new song. I know one thing for sure, it’ll get your foot tapping and possibly get you up out of your chair, moving around. If this isn’t the rock song of the summer, I don’t know what a summer rock song sounds like any  more.

I think Auerbach is a very talented guitar player, but his vocals in the Black Keys are usually a little obscured or blurred. Not so on “Shine On Me,” he’s full out singing and it sounds like he’s overdubbed himself on the vocals. He sounds better on this song than almost anything I’ve heard him do in the band. The chorus is enormous. It explodes from the speakers. This song may be a little saccharine for the usual BourbonAndVinyl musical tastes, but when I hear a great song, I just have to tell somebody about it.

Uncover the pool, sweep out the leaves, crack some Mexican beer and turn this one up loud. I have no idea how the rest of the album is going to be and I’m not even sure I’ll check it out but everybody should have this single on their summer playlist. Well everybody except those Goth folks… they don’t like to get in the sun anyway.

“Shine On Me” definite purchase! Cheers!