By Al Kaufman
If looking at names alone, The White Stripes and The Black Keys seem like polar opposites. But while White Stripe Jack White went off and started a new band seemingly every week, The Black Keys quietly moved in and claimed the blue-eyed, fuzzy blues title from under the Stripes. It was a title they almost lost with their polished 2008 release, the Danger Mouse produced Attack and Release, but they then redeemed themselves by taking a wild left turn and working with hip-hop artists such as Mos Def and Ludacris for 2009’s Blakroc.
With Brothers, the Akron, Ohio duo of Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach find the best of both worlds to create their strongest collection to date. There are plenty of heavy blues licks on here, and fuzzy guitars that hark back to Neil Young’s Live Rust days. “Black Mud” even contains fat riffs that would make Jimmy Page proud, but they reach beyond that sound. Auerbach tests out a falsetto on opening cut “Everlasting Light,” and goes back to it on “The Only One,” a song that playfully borrows more than a few chords from Tom Jones’ “She’s a Lady.” The one Danger Mouse-produced track on here, “Tighten Up,” shines in all its ragged glory instead of going for that spit shine gleam. Carney’s drum beat drives the manic energy.
The second half of the CD strongly entrenches itself in a sort of ’70s funk that may outlive its welcome by a song or two, but songs such as “Too Afraid to Love You” and “The Go Getter” offer up a bit of spaghetti western charm. They are as ominous as they are fun.
The Black Keys have re-found themselves on Brothers. They keep the recording studio wizardry to a minimum, but what they do utilize, they utilize well. A distortion here, a sleigh bell there, a finger snap both here and there. Carney’s use of percussion to create a mood would make Tom Waits envious. With a sound that is both sparse and full, old school and modern, The Black Keys have again shown that the blues will never die.