Remember the scene in “The Blues Brothers” when Jake and Elwood try to buy a smoking electric piano at Ray’s Music Exchange in downtown Chicago? One of the band members asks how much for the keyboard, and the witty Ray Charles answers, “2,000 bucks and it’s yours. As a matter of fact, I’ll throw the black keys in for free.” What a mensch.
The Black Keys throw together a mighty fine album and you won’t have to shell out 2,000 bones to get your hands on thickfreakness. The Akron, Ohio, duo gambols along on a Mississippi crawdaddy-reeking (yummy?) guitar from Dan Auerbach, who also sings with a scrawling, groveling huskiness. Throw in a vibrating drum kit from Patrick Carney and the resulting concoction is a surprisingly infectious, groovy twang.
Carney produced thickfreakness and recorded 10 of the 11 songs with a patented technique he coined “medium fidelity.” The hoarse and irresistibly itchy sonic effect works well enough to leave you aching for more. These guys ramble along like a hiccuping kangaroo. You can’t jump when you’ve got a lump in the back of your throat.
“Set You Free,” strangely enough the only track not recorded at medium fidelity, is the jittering, up-tempo beaming star in this glittering constellation. Auerbach rattles on in “Have Love Will Travel” about the traveling man coming to grips with love on the go. “Hurt Like Mine,” “Everywhere I Go” and “If You See Me” are phenomenal. Time, thought and energy were spent not only on the music and lyrics, but also on the placement of each track.
Hopefully the Black Keys will stay on the Fat Possum label, which is a crusader for more refreshing, earthy blues. The Keys have all the right combinations to all the doors, and they’re opening this one just for you.
[Eliav Appelbaum was raised by alcoholic marsupials in Chicago and would rather not talk about it. So don’t ask.]