The Black Keys: El Camino
All you need are three chords and a beat – at least, that’s how The Black Keys have been making music since their humble garage beginnings. What changes radically with each album is the overarching sonic theme, whether it’s the raw acid rock of Magic Potion, the grits-and-grease blues of Attack and Release, or the hyperdriven hard funk of Brothers. The Akron, Ohio duo’s seventh album – produced again by Brian Burton a.k.a. Danger Mouse – hits a lot of the familiar notes, but there’s a newfound sense of dynamics afoot here, as though three guys locked themselves in a room full of Free, T-Rex, Traffic and Stooges records for a weekend, distilling all they could from how a rock band (with Danger Mouse on keyboards) can work as a rhythmic unit. While some of the results sound a little stale – “Sister” and “Hell of a Season” plod like half-finished throwaways – the real killers emerge in the complexity: “Gold on the Ceiling” channels vintage Marc Bolan boogie rock, complete with a rare Dan Auerbach guitar solo and opening nod to ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons (lending credence to the rumor that the Keys have been working with the Texas trio on their long-overdue comeback), while the acoustic first half of “Little Black Submarines” verges into straight-up folk, with Auerbach’s voice cracking over the line, “Oh can it be the voices calling me/ They get lost and out of time.” Although it is not quite the kitchy Americana classic that the title El Camino suggests, it’s still just as road-worthy.