The Black Keys: Hard Edged Blues Rock at its Finest

Sometime in the not too distance past I seem to remember hearing of a band called the Black Keys... but both that memory and the reason I didn't investigate them further at the time eludes me. The other day though, I happened upon this band again, and if I had not just splurged on music just the previous day, I would have bought every one of their albums on the spot... I was that impressed, and next month, risking financial crisis, I will buy every one of their albums.

The Black Keys are another blues duo of guitar and drums the likes of the Kills and their more well known cousins, the White Stripes, and their sound is definitely in the same vein, but are still unique with their own style when compared to both of those bands, as well as other bands from the same punk/blues movement that I listen to, like the Soledad Brothers. They play blues and blues rock that has a lot of smoky darkness, some screeching slide guitar and also sinewy single note riffs that recall late 60s early 70s psychedelic and hard rock (aka, Hendrix, Cream, Zeppelin, and maybe a little Black Sabbath as well). Think delta blues and riff rock, filtered through Classic Rock, filtered through the Stooges, stripped down to only guitar and drums and you've got the right idea.

I'll also draw some quasi useless comparisons to better help you get a grasp at what the band sounds like. First, the color of their name is appropriate when comparing them to the White Stripes, for you could say they are two sides of the same coin, one day...or white... and the other night... or black... you get the idea. Compared to the White Stripes, the Black Keys are definitely the night to the White Stripes day. Both are in the same arena, but the Black Keys are darker, more shadowy and attimes harder, but also less eccentric. Second, if one was to draw lines between the White Stripes, Queens of the Stone Age, and Wolfmother (three contemporaries) you could easily place the Black keys in the center of that musical triangle. Then again you could probably also make the same triangle with the Led Zeppelin, Cream and the Stooges, again with the Black Keys in the center.

These are really just first impressions though as I have yet to hear every track the band has done. I definitely like what I've heard so far though, a lot.

There was a statement I found while researching the band, in a review from Rolling Stone, that I really like about their last album release, 2006's Magic Potion: " If Led Zeppelin had formed in 1955 and recorded for Chess Records, they'd probably sound a lot like the Black Keys..." That statement sure does seem to fit the music I've heard. You can read that entire review here:

Overall, I'd say all of these comparisons are somewhat useless because although they definitely can give you a feel of the band's music, which is why I think they're worth making, but you have to take them with a grain of salt. If they sounded exactly like that, they wouldn't be exciting, or innovative, they'd just be a rehash by my ear, and the Black Keys are definitely NOT a rehash of the White Stripes, other blues rock bands, classic rock or any of their other contemoraries.

They seem start at the delta blues and riff based rock, push it through a screaming Marshall amp, add some psychedelia, a lot of fuzz, smoke, haze, very soulful and authentic vocals, and end up at something completely unique to them. Also, although these are definitely blues and rock songs at heart, they branch out while still staying true, and avoid some of the more cliche moments of both blues and minimalism, all with a buzz saw rough edge really hits hard.

My first look at the Black Keys came when I found their myspace page through an underground radio station, you can find that page here:

The live tracks they have available here are free to download so you can do more than just listen to them.

What really put me over the edge about this band though was their live performances. I watched an entire show from the Black Keys online at the FabChannel and I was hooked.

It is a 16 song set of blues rock and roll on fire with improvisation that definitely recalls White Stripes shows, but also the grit, power and raw intensity of Nirvana on stage. I haven't heard the album versions of all of these songs yet, but on stage they're muscular, and powerful in their gritty glory.

Although all the performances really stood out as I said, a few struck me as absolutely amazing. "Stack Shot Billy" is a great slide guitar blues stomp workout with just enough mysticism in its feel to really drive it home and features a great drum feel. "Busted" is another ripping slide tune that channels a little more street preaching blues but absolutely goes for the jugular with the solo building into a blues rock explosion. "10 A.M. Automatic" is a great little rock song with a catchy riff and an overall great garage feel that the band just tears through on stage with great ferocity. "Strange Desire" also has a slight mystic feel and the vocals, and specifically the authenticity and soulfulness in the vocal delivery are perfect. "Elevator" seems to have blues, grunge and psychedelic roots and the band delivers it with an almost hypnotic groove. All of the last 4 songs in the set, (really a set closer and 3 song encore I believe) are all great examples of rock and roll in action, with the closer "Till I Get My Way" adding the rock and roll exclamation point to an already powerful set with some more howling slide guitar, but also a great hard rock riff.

Just a great set of my brand of rock and roll; raw, bluesy, hard hitting, and full of improvisation and soul.

Here's the link to the whole performance so you can watch it for yourself:

This band is a great reminder that there still is great blues based hard rock in their world and I think if you're a fan of blues rock, hard rock, garage rock blues/punk or just straight rock and roll, the Black Keys are definitely a band to be listening to.

I can't wait to check out all their albums as the Black Keys have easily become my most recent favorite band.


- The Soul of Rock 'n' Roll is a division of Fifth Column Media - -