I've never been able to get too worked up one way or the other about Akron's Black Keys, who've been churning out stripped-down blues-rock for the past six or seven years. They've never offended me, but then again I haven't ever paid much attention to them either.
I had to suppress some knee-jerk cynicism after learning that their new album, Attack & Release (Nonesuch), was produced by Danger Mouse. I figured they were trying to hitch a ride on his coattails, but as it turns out he contacted them. He invited the duo to write some songs for an Ike Turner album he planned to produce, and though Turner's death late last year put an end to that project, the work they'd already done together led to DM's involvement with the Black Keys' own disc.
The band's primitive wallop--Dan Auerbach's grimy guitar and thin white-soul howl, Patrick Carney's post-Bonham thud--is still at the music's core, but Danger Mouse does a surprisingly good job fleshing out the arrangements without compromising their punch. There are a handful of guests--including former Tom Waits sidekicks like reedist Ralph Carney, the drummer's uncle--but DM's ghostly presence is the masterstroke, adding an aura of dread and lamentation without calling attention to his role. A few tunes shoot for more sophisticated old-school soul-rock feel, too: "Lies" sounds a bit like a Led Zep tribute band dabbling in the Stax songbook, with a dash of Otis Rush thrown in. A description like that would probably make me cringe if I hadn't written it myself, but I dig this record.
I have no idea whether the sound of Attack & Release will affect the Black Keys' live shows, but if you have tickets for the group's sold-out Riviera gig on Saturday night, you'll find out. The band will be back in town in August for Lollapalooza.
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The Stoner, The New Pink (Hoob Jazz)
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Kevin Parks and Joe Foster, Ipsi Sibi Somnia Fingunt