The Black Keys

No musical form, obviously, has been more pillaged by white musicians than the blues. Yet while acts like the Rolling Stones have added sophisticated rock to the music's bare-bones origins, and others have turned it into rancid SUV rock à la today's Eric Clapton, very few have gotten it truly right between those extremes.

Now come a couple of white dudes who sound like they truly were born in a Yazoo City shack. The Black Keys, however, are from Akron, Ohio. And somehow, despite the fact that the members of this duo are in their early 20s, singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach sounds more like a 72-year-old black man groovin' on his porch. A fanatic of the genre, Auerbach drove down to Mississippi several times and struck up a friendship with fellow Fat Possum artist T-Model Ford, a seminal bluesman who plays with the sort of been-dragged-through-the-shit fire that Auerbach hopes to capture.

True, 60 years of hard luck is something youngsters can't really muster. Even so, everything on Thickfreakness, the Black Keys' second album, is nearly perfect. While T-Model plays fairly simple guitar, Auerbach fires off licks that are swift and sleek. He's a superb, confident guitarist, and drummer Patrick Carney levels out the band's sound with his bouncy, propulsive rhythms, which are also very rooted in the blues-band tradition. With "Set Me Free," they've come up with a blues anthem that makes you want to dance, drink and perhaps land smack on your face. It's the sort of uplifting tune that might really set you free. Sporting a tinge of punk in its bare chords, "Dark Row" has just enough blues to make it an item of rare beauty.

Other songs like "If You See Me" and "Midnight" sound like they could only have been written by a dirt-poor, Mississippi sharecropper. Much like their black forebears, these two have an overabundance of talent that spews forth from them as naturally as salt from the earth.


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