The Black Keys, thickfreakness

Keith Harris

By Keith Harris

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

The Black Keys aren't really a blues band. As demonstrated by the duo's cover here of the Sonics '"Have Love Will Travel" — both heavier and bluesier than the Seattle proto-punks '1965 original — the Keys are a contemporary garage band that draw directly from the blues, rather than cribbing it secondhand from older garage-rockers. Dan Auerbach grinds out the thickest low-end guitar this side of ZZ Top and drawls in the thickest low-end groan this side of an Alan Lomax field recording.

Just don’t call it the blues

Rather than compensating for the lack of a bass player by beefing up the lower register even further and driving the beat into the ground, Patrick Carney drums with a subtlety that pulls to the surface the grooves embedded within Auerbach's riffing. In fact, a bass might dilute the direct interaction between the two musicians on songs such as the sprightly call-and-response "Set You Free," in which Carney answers Auerbach's blocky chords with a variety of speedy fills.

The duo reportedly laid these tracks down in 14 hours straight, which creates such a mood of workmanlike persistence that only after several listens does Auerbach's seemingly tossed-off fretwork reveal all the virtuosity of a Stevie Ray Vaughan — with none of the self-indulgence.