The Black Keys

The Big Come Up (Alive)

For a white boy, Dan Auerbach sounds as black as Art Modell's heart. The Black Keys front man sings as if he was sired by Jimi Hendrix, weaned on Wild Turkey in T-Model Ford's shotgun shack, then mentored by Mountain's Leslie West. The latter would explain why "Leavin' Trunk" sounds a lot like "Mississippi Queen," the other two why this off-the-cuff blues scorcher is so damn good.

Though the duo has been referred to as the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's retarded cousin, the Black Keys are far less a Caucasian caricature than are Spencer and Co. The 22-year-old Auerbach has already made numerous trips to Mississippi, where he's performed with many of the Delta's legends in juke joints and shady watering holes. He's even slept on the floor of T-Model Ford's roach-infested home. The authenticity shows.

Auerbach's voice is equal parts heartache and hellfire. He hollers with all the sass and sorrow of a drunk at last call, and his guitar playing is just as rambunctious — going from fleet, foot-stompin' blues workouts to reverb-drenched, garage-rock overdrive in a heartbeat. With backing from Patrick Carney, who pounds out sloshed, ramshackle rhythms on a broken drum kit, it all amounts to lots of weathered, world-weary thrills. Highlights include "Busted," a double shot of serrated soul; "Them Eyes," the Rolling Stones skinny-dipping in Muddy Waters; and "Countdown," a funky blues barnburner.

The timing couldn't be better. Now that the White Stripes are on the tip of everybody's tongue and deconstructionist blues is all the rage, the Black Keys are primed for a breakout. And rightfully so. The Big Come Up is one of the finest albums — local or otherwise — that we've heard all year.

 
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