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The Black Keys - Delta Kream (Album Review)

Tuesday, 18 May 2021 Written by Graeme Marsh

Photo: Joshua Black Wilkins

After a year of global lockdowns, you would hope that enough time was available for your favourite artists to knuckle down to writing some seriously good new music. The Black Keys, however, have taken a different stance, opting instead to knock out a covers album that pays tribute to Mississippi hill country blues, particularly the music of artists such as Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside.

To provide an extra dose of authenticity, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney called on long-time Burnside guitarist Kenny Brown and scene mainstay Eric Deaton, a spontaneous coming together with just two days’ notice that saw the quartet churn out 11 tracks in only 10 hours. Recorded at Auerbach’s Nashville studio, ‘Delta Kream’ is the result. But the question remains: for whose benefit?

Crawling Kingsnake epitomises the project. It boasts faultless musicianship and production—you would expect nothing less—and, at times, phenomenal guitar soloing.

But this is a strand of music that rises from deep within and occasionally you’re left to wonder where exactly that heart and soul is coming from. Perhaps Auerbach just doesn’t carry the same sense of feeling his idols did when singing the same words.

On the chugging Louise the lack of fire is more evident, and the same goes for the dull pairing of Walk With Me and Mellow Peaches towards the album’s conclusion. Closer Come On and Go With Me is also relatively free of pyrotechnics and its slow, moody nature is perhaps too funereal at this late stage.

But occasionally this empty core doesn’t matter. Poor Boy A Long Way From Home chugs like a Creedence Clearwater Revival number, feeling much more alive. Stay All Night is a little hollow but the guitars are simply superb, while Going Down South, with Auerbach turning to a falsetto, is as good as it gets. Sad Days, Lonely Nights is another winner, but it’s a rare highlight on the noticeably weaker second half.

Of course, given the pedigree of those involved, ‘Delta Kream’ was going to be highly competent. Of course the production was going to be pristine, like a well oiled machine. But that’s the nail on the head right there—on too many occasions this feels like it could have been turned out by a computer or AI programme, with the human emotion missing. Ultimately, this is no doubt an exercise in self-gratification. But after this amount of time the world needs brilliant new music instead of re-runs, something The Black Keys were more than capable of delivering.

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