The Blues is Back – in Black

Layla Bozich, staff

While society may have already heard a sound like theirs in the past, The Black Keys are certainly producing a sound we wish to hear once again.

Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are the members of this bluesy-rock duo, delivering raw and powerful tunes about girls, love, and the problems that come along with both. Not only does their sound make The Black Keys stand out in today’s mainstream music scene, but their old-school approach proves to be a refreshing change from the norm.

From their very first album in 2002, The Big Come Up, to their latest 2011 release of El Camino, The Black Keys have proved their full-bodied blues flair can hold a spot among the more popular genres featured in mainstream music. El Camino debuted on the Billboard 200 at number two, a clear indication that the blues is not dead, but is simply just being given a new face.

The Black Keys draw much of their sound from the fun and upbeat tempos of The Yardbirds, which featured guitarists Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, and the sauntering vocals of blues singers Jimmy Reed and Muddy Waters, most popular in the mid-1950s. Their earlier works, especially those featured on the albums Thickfreakness and The Big Come Up, include many slow, crawling blues tunes with Auerbach’s piercing, soulful voice. The Black Keys have adapted a more upbeat sound for their two latest albums, yet still feed from their roots planted deeply in the blues tradition.

An interesting aspect to note in The Black Keys’ songs is that each is unique. While it is common today to see artists sample directly or almost directly from previous artists, such as Kanye West’s sampling of King Crimson in his song “Power”, the blues duo instead enjoy developing their songs around sounds from other artists that influence them. Many of their tunes have underlying hints of early Led Zeppelin era tunes, such as the song “Little Black Submarines”, where Auerbach taps into his hollow, crisp, Robert Plant-sounding vocals.

The duo enjoy combining their defined sound with comedic theatrics in their videos, as seen in “Next Girl”, which features a pool party attended by a puppet dinosaur; “Howlin’ For You”, a Clint Eastwood-esque Western movie trailer; “Tighten Up”, a trip to the park with the band members’ supposed sons; and “Lonely Boy”, a one-angled video of a man dancing in an office hallway.

Other artists in today’s scene have experienced the same old-time sound revival that The Black Keys have had so much success in. For example, Florence and the Machine have renewed the ghostly and well-known voices of Tori Amos and Kate Bush and have seen much triumph in their appeal to today’s listeners. The Sheepdogs have also been successful in bringing back their own version of groovy Southern rock. The four-man band from Saskatoon is heavily influenced by The Beatles, The Kinks, Sly and the Family Stone, but have a sound similar to Lynyrd Skynyrd.

It is evident that like clothing, music experiences the timeless fad of “what’s old is new again.” However, unlike the revival of high-waisted pants, blues seems to be a favourable reincarnation.

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