Dan Auerbach | Keep It Hid
Most Likely To: show that you simmer instead of boil to make a mean stew.
Dan Auerbach, vocalist and guitarist for blues duo The Black Keys, has followed an arc on their last few records that has put some of their early fans off. They have slipped away from the ferocity and bombast that characterized their earlier work towards an approach that relies more on simmer and stealth than it does volume and vertical leap.
It started with Chulahoma, an album of Junior Kimbrough covers that showed that Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney could represent their musical forefathers with grace and ease. They took Kimbrough’s amazing source material and offered it up as a modernization of the sound and proof of its timelessness. The Black Keys then gave us the Danger Mouse-produced Attack and Release, which showed them moving even further away from the barn-burning of Rubber Factory and Thickfreakness , incorporating a lot of early soul and rhythm and blues into their aesthetic.
On his solo debut (hardly solo, since his songs are fleshed out by a full band: organs, bass, backup singers, etc.), Auerbach shows that he can use this softer, gentler approach to deftly interweave his influences into an album that is as varied as it is consistently good. He opens Keep It Hid with a world-weary song that sounds as if it were lifted straight from the Stanley Brothers songbook and moves from there into Bo Diddley-style vamps, straight up soul ballads, and brief detours into psychedelic reverie. In the process, he proves that he is comfortable dabbling in all of these genres.
The key to deftly navigating these waters is Auerbach’s voice, which is certainly capable of conveying the nuance and the emotional core that defines each of these genres. He can be lilting and soft, he can be whiskey-addled and heavy, he can be sinister and sexy. His voice is appealing because it seems so populist and familiar. The same could be said about his guitar playing. He forgoes the typical over-the-top blues wankery that generally keeps anyone with taste away from modern blues and instead sticks to a rhythmic style that breaks off into tasteful and well timed solos.
The standout tracks on this album are the ones that show a maturation and refinement of Auerbach’s approach to classic blues, the songs that slink along in Diddley’s and Howlin’ Wolf’s shoes. “The Prowl” and “Street Walkin’” establish an ability to create music that is just as intense as the frenetic jabs that The Black Keys peddled in their early days, but trade in that outward fury for something that is held a little closer to the chest, songs that sound like they are toeing the line between a caress and a punch to the larynx. And in keeping the emotions at a simmer, Auerbach betrays a scope and fluency that will keep his listeners faithfully maturing with him, and wanting for more.