Dan Auerbach – [Album]

Monday, 16 February 2009

The further that one gets from home, the more attractive a return must look. With Danger Mouse's help, Akron's Black Keys extended the scope of and possibilities for their incendiary alt-blues on 2008's Attach & Release to well beyond the points that anyone imagined possible but, by the same token, it must have presented a remarkable hurdle to overcome; for a two-piece outfit to make (and then attempt to reproduce live) such sprawling sounds is a tough act to follow, so what's the next step?

Singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach must've known that he'd gone as big as he could with Attack & Release and so, even going as far as to leave Keys drummer Patrick Carney out of the equation this time, he goes home on Keep It Hid.

For his solo debut, Auerbach strips his music down to its essence – just his own soulful, hill folk moan, a blues-based guitar drawl that sounds like the stylistic half-step between Marc Ribot and T-Model Ford and a host of hallucinogenic and textural touchings – and, with the help of a few friends and family members (the guitarist's father Charles helped with some of the writing), gets back to center to start developing a few ideas and creative opportunities missed in the first go 'round with his band. While there's no mistaking that there's still a whole lot of blues inflection and what fans will recognize as the signature Black Keys sound in Keep It Hid's fourteen tracks, nothing flies quite as straight as either of those assertions implies; there is a striking sense of discord, tension and skittering unease that will make the hairs on the necks of listeners stand at attention and have them wondering what's to come in the spaces between songs. Having produced most of the record himself, there are a few recognizable stray sparks from The Big Come Up (though the quality is a little too high to be called mid-fi) hiding in every corner of these proceedings, but the playing itself is a few yards outside of the blues pocket. After the back porch-sitting and folksy introductions made in the uncharacteristically acoustic “Trouble Weighs A Ton,” in “I Want Some More” the singer starts playing with and perfecting a seductively busted and shuffling tango that recurs throughout the album. While the sound is methodically paced and does favor heart and feel over technique, paradoxically there is a sardonic confidence AND a little more care in the craft of songs like “I Want Some More,” “Mean Monsoon,” “The Prowl,” the title track and “When I Left The Room” that shoot for and achieve both an unsettling groove and unhinged stance that turns salacious in its consistent reappearance. Eventually, that swing becomes the thing that listeners hope to hear crop up in each song as the album progresses (that isn't to sell songs like the R&B-infused “Whispered Words (Pretty Lies),” the uncharacteristically pop “My Last Mistake” and hymnal “Real Desire” – they're good songs, but not the focus here) and “Street Walkin'” is the bowl-them-over hit in that regard; the other tracks are very good, solid and revelatory – the kind one would hope for in a record of this type – but “Street Walkin'” is the song that illustrates the seamless synthesis of the sounds that got Auerbach noticed with The Black Keys and the new experiments taken for a spin on this record. In this one song, all of the color in Auerbach's palette blend together (think about what a jam session  starring Junior Kimbrough, The Stooges and Tom Waits might sound like and you're getting the idea) to present a tone that's new, lush and incredibly vibrant – it is the promise unspoken in Keep It Hid's other thirteen tracks kept.

While none of The Black Keys' albums have ever disappointed those listeners that find them with their classic rock-styled indie assault and Keep It Hid does bear hints of that, the growth and different approach attempted here makes an engrossing impact. Whether these ideas ultimately end up infiltrating The Black Keys' sound or whether they end up being Auerbach's personal playthings is irrelevant, but we can only hope they aren't abandoned – Keep It Hid is a rare treasure that deserves more examination.


Dan Auerbach online

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Keep It Hid is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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