Missed Music

Music you didn’t know you needed…until now.

The Friday mix: My favorites from comtemporary blues-rock geniuses The Black Keys

I live in Cleveland, OH and I’m a big fan of the city. I lived in Denver for about 5 years, but I missed northeast Ohio terribly and came back. I love the emerald necklace of metro parks around the city. Cleveland is a great food town. Fall in northeast Ohio is spectacular. The Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. LeBron and the Cavaliers. I love it here. I think Cleveland gets a bad rap because a lot of the coolest stuff in Cleveland isn’t downtown and visitors don’t know how to find it. It’s a great place to live, but I wouldn’t want to visit there.

Some great musicians come from Northeast Ohio as well. Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders is from my hometown. Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo went to my high school. John Popper of Blues Traveler is from Cleveland. So is Tracy Chapman. Macy Gray is from Youngstown. Hell, Dean Martin is from Steubenville, which is at least central east. A couple of my recent favorites to emerge from northeast Ohio are Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, who together form The Black Keys.

The blues are alive and well, thank you very much.

Just two guys, but between Auerbach’s virtuoso guitar and soulful, powerful voice and Carney’s deft and appropriate drumming and superior production skills, they have a big sound that leaves no holes. More importantly, the songs are brilliant. They play old-school blues-rock but somehow manage to breathe vitality into one of the oldest forms of American music. The sound is raw, though the songs themselves are polished. If you haven’t heard them yet, their music is stirring and exciting when they rock out and gut wrenching when they’re playing a ballad. If you haven’t seen them, they are not to be missed.

Here is a sampling of some of my favorites from each of their albums, except “The Moan” from 2004, which I don’t yet have.

“The Big Come Up” was their debut, released in 2002. Check these.

  • I’ll Be Your Man – This is track #3, but the first one on the album written by Auerbach and Carney and it’s my favorite on this album.
  • Countdown – Another one penned by the Keys. The fun guitar riff is brightened even further by the spirited love song behind it.
  • She Said, She Said – I’ve seen them do this Beatles classic live and they do such a great job you would swear they wrote it. Easily my favorite cover of this song.

They followed that release up with “Thickfreakness” in 2003. If you have never heard anything by the Keys, this is the album I recommend you pick up first.

  • Thickfreakness – The guitar in this is so dirty Auerbach can never wash his hands clean. This is my favorite track on this release.
  • Hard Row – The guitar riff and the vocal melody could each have carried a song by themselves. Together, they’re fantastic. Add to that a guitar solo you could saw logs with and it’s tremendous. I lied. THIS is my favorite song on this release.
  • Hurt Like Mine – When there are only two musicians in your band, you have to fill all the holes yourself. I love the way Auerbach manages to play both lead and rhythm parts simultaneously in so many of his songs. This is a prime example.
  • Everywhere I Go – A cover of the classic by Junior Kimbrough. Carney’s percussion work on this is steady, not flashy, but every note hangs on the groove he creates.

“Rubber Factory” – they are from the Rubber City after all – was released in 2004. While their style is the same, the songwriting continues to mature. We start to hear more multi-tracking and more carefully structured songs.

  • Just Couldn’t Tie Me Down – I like the whole song, but I love the opening few seconds. The guitar riff intro gets clobbered by Carney when he comes in and the whole song rocks from there on.
  • The Lengths – This was and I think still is the most beautiful song they’ve ever done. The guitar makes you want to weep right along with it.
  • Grown So Ugly – Sick, sick cover of this song. It’s an irresistible song to begin with and they play the crap out of it.
  • Stack Shot Billy – This crowd favorite was the one they chose to play on Letterman.

In 2006, the Black Keys released an EP called “Chulahoma.” All 6 tracks are covers of Junior Kimbrough songs, so it isn’t a typical Keys album and doesn’t seem to follow the path of their evolution. The sound is more raw and closer to their first album. I particularly like 2 tracks.

  • Keep Your Hands Off Her – Auerbach has such an easy, relaxed hand on this song.
  • Meet Me In the City – I like the North Mississippi Allstars version maybe a bit more, but it’s such a cool song that I have this take on my iPod too.

Also in 2006, the Keys released a regular studio album, “Magic Potion.” Not my favorite release, but it still had a couple real gems.

  • You’re the One – The pretty vocal melody plays nicely with the guitar riff in this quiet tune. If you’re at a show, this is when you go get a beer, but I love to hear it come up on random in my car.
  • The Flame – This is one of Auerbach’s oozy, simmering tunes. It sounds like 3:00 AM to me.

“Attack and Release” came out in 2008 and I was thrilled. For a two-piece, the Black Keys’ sound has never been thin, but they invited a few musicians to join them in the studio, including Marc Ribot. The result was fantastic. You can hear keyboards, backing vocals, flute, and I think even strings. I ripped 9 of 11 songs on this release to my iPod. People should start with Thickfreakness, but I think this is their best album.

  • All You Ever Wanted – A little Hammond organ rounds out this great melody.
  • I Got Mine – This track would be right at home on their first album. It will rock your face.
  • Strange Times – This track got picked up for inclusion in Grand Theft Auto IV. I wouldn’t have thought their songwriting could improve, but it did.
  • Psychotic Girl – More amazing songwriting. I wonder who she is. Check out the lyrics.
  • Same Old Thing – This one gets me shaking my head and drumming with my hands.
  • So He Won’t Break – Another great song. I can’t wait for their next release. “Attack and Release” will be a tough act to follow.

Another thing I love about The Black Keys is they’re proud of having come from Akron and make kind of a deal out of it. Go Zips! The official Ohio state drink is tomato juice, so enjoy this mix with a Bloody Mary. Have a good weekend.

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December 18, 2009 - Posted by | Blues, Popular, Rock

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