Sometimes, going back to one’s roots is one of the best ways to find oneself. It’s a common trope in storytelling. The kid from the country who moved to the city to find a better life, goes back to their parent’s farm to learn a lot about themselves. It is common for artists to evoke the passions of their youth as fountains of potential for expression; music itself is built on the shoulders of its own giants, creating an uneven pyramid to the lyrical and compositional heavens.
The Black Keys have a found a little bit of magic inside of their comfort zone, composing their newest album, Delta Kream, out of the catalogues of the blues-rock annals and striking magic with a tight set of songs that all hold each other up to make a very solid album.
One of my greatest praises for this album is that The Black Keys feel supremely comfortable in the recording booth, jamming out over the two afternoons they made this track of country-blues covers. It’s a sort of return home to them; these are the sorts of tracks that began their career in the early aughts, and it’s a testament to how they’ve refined their sound over the years.
These guys are no strangers to covering tracks, or even covering these tracks in particular: “Do the Romp” was a track they covered on their debut album,The Big Come Up, in 2002, and I think that it warranted the cover. They made it fit the overall vision of the album very well, even if I do miss the harder, blues guitar that they incorporated in their debut. It certainly feels cleaner in this version, and the sound quality has certainly gotten stronger, but there’s something that feels lost in the cleaned up ‘new-retro’ version.
Unlike with a lot of albums, I think that the single is an accurate reflection of one of the highlights of the set. “Crawling Kingsnake” as the opening track on the album and a blues-rock staple, sprawls out the landscape of the delta in front of the listener, with their trailing guitars making this a fitting entrant for any Southern summer road trip.
“Going Down South” is another highlight, combining haunting lyrics with organ parts that serve to give the middle and the end parts of the album a backbone. I would also highlight “Come on and Go with Me” as a track of particular note.
I think, other than the problems presented in the higher fidelity and the streamlining of the sound represented in songs like “Do the Romp,” the album’s sole problem is that it doesn’t ‘punch’ in the way that I would like a country blues album to do. It’s a great album for a lazy day, to drift off along the lyrics and to be taken for a ride by the rich instrumentation. Each song, individually, is strong. When they are put together, however, a lot of them end up sounding too similar for my tastes.
It turns into a half-hour of the same type of tracks; it lacks some of the musical variety that I would like to hear. “Going Down South,” parts of “Coal Black Mattie”, and “Come on and Go with Me” are the main exceptions to this. The former springs with signs of life, with a new style of singing and a unique instrumentation that makes it stand out. The latter punches you back to reality with a haunting organ that creeps up in the background and builds a dirge-like feel to finish out the main set. The radio edit of “Crawling Kingsnake” is included in some forms of the album as the final track but I think that “Come on and Go with Me” is a much more fitting end.
Overall, this was a very pleasing album to listen to. There were no weak songs that particularly stood out to me, and I felt as if it was an effort from The Black Keys that was very much worth the listen. Still, I felt like there could be more from it. The album did not have as much variety as I had hoped, but the fact that it was record in two afternoons without much preparation tempers my critique of this. If I take it as something recorded as a passion project on the fly, as a cover album released for fun by a couple of fantastic blues rock artists, I think I could easily overlook most of these flaws.
For something recorded in two afternoons, I think the album shows just how talented that Auerbach and Carney are. The flaws certainly remain, but none are particularly fatal. I think that The Black Keys are well-known enough to not need recommendation, but I think fans of artists such as The Marcus King Band; The Allman Brothers Band; “Kingfish” Ingram; Blackberry Smoke, or just anything that screams Delta blues or southern rock would enjoy this.