The Black Keys bare their soul


Dan Auerbach, guitarist of The Black Keys, plays at Mojo Club Night at Wilton’s Music Hall, East London. (Courtesy of Simon Fernandez, Wiki Commons)

Raw soul sets the Black Keys’ latest album, “Brothers” apart from others who have ventured and failed to take center stage in the world of bluesy-prog-rock bliss. 


This could have something to do with where the album was recorded – the historic Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama, host to the recordings of R&B greats like Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, and rocker Bob Seger.


But it also could be these guys just rock. 


The sixth album from the Akron, Ohio duo is a culmination of the character they have built from the start. After a collaboration with genre-mixing producer Danger Mouse on 2008’s “Attack and Release,” and a recent side project for each member, the Black Keys’ latest delivers the group back to a skeletal blues base, albeit with a tighter sound. 


Sometimes, it’s the haunting mix of light guitar trills and the softly beating organ in songs like “Too Afraid to Love You,” and sometimes, it’s the charging effect of guitarist Dan Auerbach’s Hendrix-style riffs on songs like “Tighten Up,” a psychedelic leftover from the Danger Mouse collaboration. Whichever way they go about it, Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney craft the right setting and ambience for each song.


“Brothers” is filled out with slower (but never boring!) blues ballads. But at the same time, it is punctuated with enough edge from burners with fast-paced, mesmeric drumming and biting guitar dialogue on tracks like “Howlin’ for You,” to keep it moving. 


While it is evident that Auerbach is in touch with his musical roots, he steers clear of standard cliché blues lyrics about the devil and disappointed women. Instead, he makes the sound creatively ominous on tracks like “Next Girl,” where he insists darkly that “My next girl, she’ll be nothing like my ex-girl.” 


Reflecting the album title, Auerbach and Carney’s musical relationship is faultless, with Carney’s strong beats guiding the gritty guitar fuzz and intensely raw vocals that Auerbach cranks out in tunes like “She’s Long Gone.” 


The result is a wonderfully snarly sixth album. Despite periodic genre-bending and non-Black Keys projects, the pair still know how to sing the blues – and they do it well.


“‘Brothers”‘ is available in stores and online starting Tuesday, May 18.


Contact Annie Sciacca at  [email protected]