My latest musical obsession is the Black Keys.  Consisting of just two remarkably talented guys, Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach, they have pumped out six albums over the last eight years which have earned them increasing critical acclaim.  Their style is usually categorized as blues rock, but I would call it classic rock with an R&B soul.  Actually, Carney’s drumming often creates a groove that has a distinct hip hop feel, such as on “Tighten Up,” the first single from their latest album, Brothers.  The album is an addictive collection of tunes that showcase Auerbach’s soulful guitar hooks, reminiscent of some of Jimmy Page’s best work with Led Zeppelin.  Though Auerbach’s renown as guitarist is well-deserved, it unfortunately overshadows his brilliance as a singer.  I find it difficult to think of another male vocalist today who has a voice with so much emotional color and depth.  So the guy is a rare double-threat, perhaps the best since Jimi Hendrix.

The lyrical themes on Brothers are consistent with the band’s blues core.  The songs are mainly lovesick meditations and like the best of the blues they tend to transcend the sorrows of relationships and touch on deeper issues regarding the human condition.  But the transitions are always seamless and authentic.  On the one hand (demonstrating he’s as natural a blues writer as he is a blues guitarist and singer), Auerbach effortlessly tosses off lines like these:

“There’s nothing worse in this world than payback from a jealous girl.  The laws of man, they don’t apply when blood gets in a woman’s eye.” (“Ten Cent Pistol”)

Or these lines from “The Go Getter”:

“Palm trees, the flat broke disease and L.A. has got me on my knees.  I am the bluest of blues.  Every day a different way to lose.”

But then the bigger spiritual struggle emerges in several songs on Brothers, perhaps prompted by all of the sorrow and loneliness.  This comes through powerfully on “Sinister Kid”:

“A sinister kid is a kid who runs to meet his maker, a drop dead sprint from the day he’s born straight into his maker’s arms.  And that’s me, the boy with the broken halo.  That’s me…  The devil won’t let me be.”

And on the album’s pleading closer, “These Days”:

“Watch what you say.  The devil is listening.  He’s got ears that you wouldn’t believe.  And brother once you go to him, it’s your soul you can never, never retrieve.”

Indeed.  On Brothers the blues themes of the Black Keys seem to be traveling a similar path as that traveled by Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, among others.  The pain brings world-weariness, to be sure, but not bitterness.  Rather, a certain humility that is willing to consider how all of our striving on earth amounts to much more than merely earthly striving.  It is also a humility that is willing to entertain heavenly hope, as is evident on “Unknown Brother,” a poignant message to Auerbach’s brother-in-law who died young:

“For you, unknown brother, my baby’s mother is pained.  ‘Cause your soul is in heaven, but your memory remains.  Unknown, unknown brother, I’ll meet you some day.  We’ll walk through fields where children play.”


3 Responses to “The Black Keys’ Brothers: A Review”

  1. Jason


    An excellent album indeed! I feel like a chump for a) not catching them when the opened for KOL last year and b) not getting a ticket to this year’s show before they sold out. Check out their appearance on ACL if you haven’t yet. Have you picked up any of their others? Do you have suggestions to offer in that regard?

    • Jim Spiegel



      I do have their Attack and Release album, which is the one just before Brothers—released in 2008. Its very strong, too, but a bit more raw and not as musically interesting as Brothers. I like the direction they’re going and hope they continue to evolve and experiment.

    • Jeff


      I have recently been turned on to them and checked out a face-melting show they put on here in Cleveland recently. It was a hometown show (they are from Akron) and despite a sub-optimal venue (Quicken Loans arena) they put on a very tight and energetic set. After the show I picked up “Rubber Factory” and have not been disappointed. Each track seems better than the next. Highly recommended!


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)