Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have been at it now for 20 years as The Black Keys. They have been on a steady course from Midwestern underground blues revivalists to indie rock darlings to mainstream, middle-aged rockers soundtracking soccer mom road trips. Regardless of where you’re at on the Keys’ timeline, Auerbach and Carney put in the work and put names like Junior Kimbrough, RL Burnside, Clarence White, and T-Model Ford in the heads of people that otherwise never would have heard of them.
On the band’s latest, Delta Kream, The Black Keys go for a full-on covers album of hill country blues tunes. Junior Kimbrough, RL Burnside, John Lee Hooker, and Big Joe Williams take up a good portion of this record, with Auerbach and Carney locking into some serious hypnotic grooves while paying tribute to the greats.
Once El Camino hit in 2011, it felt like The Black Keys went into auto pilot. It was a steady stream of middle of the road blues rock with concerts sponsored by Anheuser-Busch and Red Bull. There were a lot of side projects outside the band as well, with Auerbach getting involved in producing and side projects like The Arcs. Carney produced albums as well, including producing and playing on Michelle Branch’ first album in 14 years. Delta Kream is loose and fun, with these Midwestern blues aficionados getting lost in the music that got them here in the first place.
I’m not sure how folks that fell hard for the Keys with Brothers, El Camino, and Turn Blue will feel about Delta Kream. “Crawling Kingsnake” isn’t “Gold On The Ceiling”. This is juke joint blues. Auerbach and Carney lock into Junior Kimbrough’s groove nicely, putting to bed the pop rock tendencies of the last few years for something that feels real. “Poor Boy A Long Way From Home” gets a chugging, hypnotic boogie going, bottleneck slide and a great shuffle rhythm in tow. “Going Down South” sports an impressive Dan Auerbach falsetto and repetitive chord progression that owes as much to Ry Cooder and Little Feat as it does to the great RL Burnside. “Coal Black Mattie” is another impressive boogie, followed by a filthy little number called “Do The Romp”.
Delta Kream is an impressive and mature turn for The Black Keys. Early on they proved they were students of the masters of the blues, adding their own distorted, fuzzed-out flavor to the Mississippi Delta sound all the while recording in a basement laundry room with just a couple mics and a 4-track recorder. Delta Kream is a love letter to their inspirations and influences, all the while staying true to themselves.
7.8 out of 10