Sunday, February 8, 2009

Review: Dan Auerbach - Keep It Hid (* * * *)

Apparently, releasing one of the better rock records of 2008 wasn't cause enough for Dan Auerbach to take a break. The singer/guitarist, and one half of The Black Keys, is back already (this time without drummer Patrick Carney), making his solo debut with an LP entitled Keep It Hid. Last year's Black Keys full-length, Attack & Release, saw the duo expanding their gritty, blues-tinged rock 'n' roll with the help of Danger Mouse in the producer's chair. The results were generally fantastic, though a number of diehard fans were disappointed by the quirky flourishes and embellishments which were layered upon the band's signature guitar-and-drum attack. Here, Auerbach generally forgoes fancy studio trickery for a more traditional and straightforward blues sound, which he creates with help from a full backing band.

The decision for Auerbach to go solo for this record seemed a strange one to me, since I wasn't sure exactly how this would be significantly different from anything he'd done previously. As such, I was pleasantly surprised to find that, despite his unmistakable style, Keep It Hid is not simply a Black Keys record by any other name. The album is a sprawling collection of rock 'n' roll songs coming in all shapes and sizes; soulful ballads, raw rockers, and everything in between, connected by Auerbach’s unique presentation and gift for channeling the energy and spirit of classic rock.

"Trouble Weighs A Ton" starts things off on a melancholy note, with just acoustic guitar backing the brief, lonesome story. It's one of several subdued, gentle tunes on the album, along with the uncharacteristically tender "When The Night Comes" and the homesick closer "Goin' Home." The latter of which rolls along on banjo and slide guitar, demonstrating a side of Auerbach you may not have heard before. The quieter material suits him well, especially when balanced with the hard blues-rock he does best.

The second track, "I Want Some More," kicks things into a more familiar stomp. You'll think you've heard it before until Auerbach drifts into a spacey, touch-and-go solo for a minute before bringing the song back in focus. His exploration of guitar effects and styles is something of a theme throughout the album. Though none of the songs are longer than five minutes, Auerbach takes time to noodle around a bit more than usual, like during the long outro to "Heartbroken, In Disrepair" and the extended, fuzzed-out solo on "Streetwalker." He keeps the songs focused, though, and the majority of the attention is on his ever-impressive guitar riffs and earnest vocals, just shy of a primal howl. Songs like "Mean Monsoon," "When I Left the Room," and "The Prowl" are all swagger and dirty, distorted grooves that rock in the most pure sense of the word.

Keep It Hid succeeds primarily because of Auerbach’s style. The man exudes rock 'n' roll attitude like nobody in the business, and his guitar chops remain sharp throughout the record. It's obvious that Auerbach feels comfortable and confident with all of this material, and though one could argue that he's not stretching himself much here (and that may be true), he covers so much territory so gracefully that the album's songs feel like a revitalization of the rock genre, rather than just a retread of better days.

Though Keep It Hid offers nothing that could be considered groundbreaking, Dan Auerbach's talent as a musician and songwriter make for an exceptionally enjoyable rock 'n' roll album.