Monday, September 14, 2009

Digging in the dirt, and finding the blues - The Black Keys "Rubber Factory"

When Scott, my nephew, told me that I should listen to The Black Keys, I of course did as I was told because his judgement has been unerringly good so far. So I bought and listened to Rubber Factory a few weeks ago, found myself swept away by its bluesy rock beat and its strong gutsy tunes, and I knew straight away that Scott had once again steered me in the right direction.

But then hearing Dan Auerbach, the Black Keys’ guitar and vocal lead, doing some solo work on 3 PBS FM the other morning, I was inspired to go back to Rubber Factory for another run through the album and now I am left thinking that this might even be one of Scott’s best recommendations of all. And that's saying something.

The album opens with a phenomenally good track, “When the Lights Go Out”, just oozing with that wonderful “get down and dirty” sort of blues that I thought no one performed as well as this anymore. “You know what the sun’s all about/when the lights go out” this song tells us – but these songs are not about wallowing in the darkness, they’re about accepting it as part of life and deciding that, if you can’t beat it, you might as well pour yourself a drink and dance in it.

The Black Keys is only two people but it sounds like a lot more than that, the way they bring such a smorgasbord of sounds into their mix – Patrick Carney hammering away on a whole battery percussion, driving everything along, even when the mood is laid back and languid; and Dan Auerbach moving from guitars to fiddle to lap steel with incredible ease. Listen to the plaintive steel whining in “The Lengths”, and ask yourself if this could really be coming from the same hand that plucks out the jazz-like, knife-edge anguish of “Stack Shot Billy”, or the drug-weary numbness of “Aeroplane Blues”, or the aggressive, defiant riffs of “Till I Get My Way”.

Rubber Factory is full of songs that sound like someone has found an old tree, with roots firmly in the soil and dirt of '60s blues, but growing and thriving with a 21st century bloom. It might be a bloom caked in grit and grunge – but that just makes you want to breathe it in, and be intoxicated by it, all the more.

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