Review : The Black Keys - Brothers
AllmusicRetreating from the hazy Danger Mouse-fueled pot dream of Attack & Release, the Black Keys headed down to the legendary Muscle Shoals, recording their third album on their own and dubbing it Brothers. The studio, not to mention the artwork patterned after such disregarded Chess psychedelic-era relics as This Is Howlin’ Wolf’s New Album, are good indications that the tough blues band of the Black Keys earliest records is back, but the group hasn’t forgotten what they’ve learned in their inwardly psychedelic mid-period. Brothers still can get mighty trippy -- the swirling chintzy organ that circles “The Only One,” the Baroque harpsichord flair of “Too Afraid to Love You” -- but the album is built with blood and dirt, so its wilder moments remain gritty without being earthbound. Sonically, that scuffed-up spaciness -- the open air created by the fuzz guitars and phasing, analog keyboards, and cavernous drums -- is considerably appealing, but the Black Keys ace in the hole remains the exceptional songwriting Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are so good at as they twist a Gary Glitter stomp into swamp fuzz blues, steal a title from Archie Bell & the Drells but never reference that classic Tighten Up groove, or approximate a slow ‘60s soul crawl on “Unknown Brother” and follow it up with a version of Jerry Butler’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” and it’s nearly impossible to tell which is the cover. And that’s the great thing about the Black Keys in general and Brothers in particular: the past and present intermingle so thoroughly that they blur, yet there’s no affect, just three hundred pounds of joy....full text
SlantmagazineIn its best moments, the Black Keys's Brothers is as ferocious and soulful an exploration of contemporary blues as anything in recent memory. It's also a record that speaks to the duo's fearlessness, and, at least on initial impression, it suggests that they have moved beyond their "transitional" phase with a new clarity of purpose. For an act as accomplished and progressive as the Keys, that kind of focus and vision makes Brothers one of 2010's strongest albums.
Having brought in Danger Mouse to produce their previous outing, Attack & Release, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney ventured to the legendary studios of Muscle Shoals for this largely DIY project. Danger Mouse's sole production credit here, "Tighten Up," is one of the set's highlights, underscoring Auerbach's ragged wails of "honey child" with a scintillating funk groove. But the bulk of the album proves that Auerbach and Carney are at their best when they rely on their own pinpoint-precise instincts. Their production is one of Brothers's strengths: Inspired flourishes like the harpsichord on "Too Afraid to Love You" fold effortlessly into the blues aesthetic. The percussion lines are really incidental to the deep rhythm guitar riffs, while the lead electric guitar lines always have ample breathing room.
Brothers gives the Keys plenty of space to roll around in the Alabama clay, and the overall dirtiness and lived-in soulfulness of the album's sound is perfectly matched to the songwriting. Standout cuts "Next Girl" and "Unknown Brother" trade equally in heartbreak, rage, and regret. Songs like "Afraid" and a jaw-dropping cover of Jerry Butler's "Never Gonna Give You Up" draw heavily from the vintage R&B sides that made Muscle Shoals famous, and they demonstrate the phenomenal growth in the Keys's writing. "Ten Cent Pistol" toys with blues conventions with its twisted narrative and vivid imagery: "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." Fully coming into their own as songwriters, the Keys do traditional blues tropes better than just about anyone.
The tempo and the quality drag just slightly in the album's middle section thanks to the sludgy instrumental break of "Black Mud" and the canned backbeat of "The Only One," but that's a minor compliant that ultimately speaks to how extraordinary the material that bookends the album is. An album that works as both a blisteringly smart genre study that combines classic and contemporary perspectives on blues, soul, and R&B and as just one hell of a rock record, Brothers reaffirms that the Black Keys belong in any serious conversation about America's finest bands....full text
UrbRight down to the cover art that winks in Howlin’ Wolf’s direction, Brothers is downright dripping with respectful nods to blues and soul past. Yet this is clearly no nostalgia trip. The lithe sounds of The Black Keys’ latest album come hungry and ready to stamp out their place at this very moment. The coarse blues rockers and raw soul grooves are presented in skeletal mixes where the instruments and vocals can spread out as they will and every other crumb of noise settles into its good place.
The bare production style definitely takes influence from Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney’s work with hip hop royalty like Mos Def and RZA, and they seem to have learned much from time spent with Midas touch collaborator Danger Mouse who helmed the recording of Brothers’ predecessor, the excellent Attack & Release.
But despite one last collaboration with Danger Mouse on the excitable and surprising “Tighten Up” this time out Auerbach and Carney handle the production details personally, and their fare is straightforwardly unsimple and deeply emotionally present. Matching the immediate musical intensity of opener “Everlasting Light” in a surprising way, Auerbach digs up an enticing falsetto that reappears on “The Only One” to glide along nicely with interplay between organ, bass and snippets of guitar. Lyrically hopeful moments like those (and the well crafted Jerry Butler cover “Never Gonna Give You Up”) may show off a positive take on love, but the more contemptuous thoughts on the subject are certainly not shortchanged here. “Next Girl” is a hearty slice of getting past love gone bad, “Ten Cent Pistol” is a classic tale of the scorned seeking revenge and “She’s Long Gone” and “I’m Not the One” certainly make the points implied by their titles. In every case the mood and intensity of the lyrics gets accented and augmented by the dynamic musical lead with which it’s paired. Everything fits in place to up the game of something else, and no part of these finely made blues and soul creations gets a pass on pulling its weight. That’s just how it works for Brothers....full text
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