BY MARIANA GARRICK
The indie-blues rock band The Black Keys released their 10th studio album Delta Kream on May 14. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney’s 11-track album fills the ears of listeners with head-bopping jams and foot-stomping rhythms that pay tribute to hill country blues legends R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and others. The duo’s eclectic sound on this album established that rock can be both calming and exhilarating, while also embracing the different instruments and sounds of smooth jazz, provided by the raspy, yet somehow smooth, voice of Auerbach.
The cover album was recorded in two days at Auerbach’s Nashville studio toward the end of 2019’s Let’s Rock Tour, when he and Carney returned to their blues roots. After being a duo for nearly 20 years, the pair also enlisted the help of Kenny Brown, Burnside’s guitarist, and Eric Deaton, Kimbrough’s bassist, for inspiration. The tribute-album shows its authenticity with false starts, sudden endings, and conversation among the band. Delta Kream was born with 10 hours of playing and no rehearsal.
The album starts off with “Crawling Kingsnake,” which was originally a two-minute track, but is here transformed into a six-minute song showcasing the talents of Carney with a drum solo and Auerbach’s guitar skills. The track is a cover of “Crawling King Snake,” a 1920’s Delta blues classic. John Lee Hooker covered it in 1949, drawing inspiration from Big Joe Williams’ 1941 country-blues version. The song sets the tone for the rest of the somber tracks to come.
The last strings of the guitar slowly fade into country blues singer and guitar player Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Louise.” To fit the mood, Auerbach’s vocals are breathier as he mumbles the blues lyrics. The next track, a cover of Burnside’s “Poor Boy a Long Way from Home,” perfectly blends their signature indie-blues rock sound, while adding a bit of jazz with Auerbach’s soulful notes.
The band became a household name after 2010’s hit “Tighten Up” and 2011’s “Lonely Boy” found their way onto the big screen in movies, commercials, and at the top of Billboard’s alternative chart. The Ohio band’s 2010 album, Brothers, won them two Grammy awards for best alternative album and best rock performance by a duo or group with vocals. Their 2011 album, El Camino, also won the pair two Grammy awards the following year for best rock performance and best rock album. With the success of El Camino, the group began their first arena concert tour in late 2011, taking them around the world to over 20 countries on a jaunt that didn’t conclude until January 2014.
Between the release of their previous album, 2019’s Let’s Rock, and 2014’s Turn Blue, both Auerbach and Carney focused on their solo careers at one point, while facing speculations about the band breaking up. Within their five-year hiatus, the guitarist started his own record label, Easy Eye Sound, and recorded his sophomore solo album, Waiting on a Song, as well as forming the band, The Arcs, as a side project. The drummer wrote the theme song for Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman” and produced records by Calvin Johnson and his wife, Michelle Branch, a Grammy-Award winning singer.
With the fervent, steady closing sounds of “Mellow Peaches” and Kimbrough’s six-minute track, “Come on and Go with Me,” it seems as if the hill country blues garage rock tribute album was the result of a spontaneous, whirlwind recording idea. It’s clear that Delta Kream, a tribute album, isn’t going to bring them back to the top of the charts as once before, but it does serve as a reminder of the sound they’ve been rooted in since the beginning. For long-time fans, this album may remind them of the duo’s original sound, when Auerbach and Carney first began playing blues tunes in garages and basements after dropping out of college. It shows that even after the stadium tour, awards, and five-year hiatus, The Black Keys will always stick to their roots.