Album of the Week: The Black Keys, "Let's Rock"

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The Black Keys,
The Black Keys, "Let's Rock" (Courtesy of Nonesuch)

(Editor's note: A few weeks ago, The Current's Program Director Jim McGuinn got a phone call to see if he could be in Nashville the next day to interview The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney for a national radio special celebrating the rollout of their new album, "Let's Rock". He spent the next day at Easy Eye Studio, Dan Auerbach's headquarters, where The Black Keys made their new album, talking about the record, about memorable gigs in Minnesota, and about their lives now, coming back together after years apart to make new music again. It was a thrill for McGuinn to spend that much time with the band, at one point strumming guitars with Auerbach, and talking extensively about the Minnesota Twins with Carney, a longtime Indians fan.)

Starting in 2002, The Black Keys put out 8 albums in 12 years and toured America nonstop - growing their audience from Turf Club to the Target Center. But after 2014's Turn Blue, they stopped.

"The guess the question might be, why'd we take a break," said drummer Patrick Carney. "We didn't have a hit record until our sixth album, so we put out five albums that required us to tour in a van, or a minivan or a car, until we finally had this record brothers that was a hit." "And then that's when the work began," continued singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach. "Before you know it, in a four year period we did close to 500 shows," adds Carney. The last Turn Blue tour started with me breaking my shoulder, and then we were falling apart. So then we did our last shows and basically stopped booking stuff and took a break."

Now Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are back with the June 28th release of "Let's Rock".

Carney adds, "The minute we got back to the studio is was just right there where we left it. We hung out a few times over that three year period, but we were both just doing our own thing."

Stripping down the sound to just guitars and drums, "Let's Rock" finds the Black Keys being themselves - for the first time in years there's no extra musicians, no production help from Dangermouse - just Dan and Patrick, back to being the Black Keys.

"I saw down right here," said Auerbach, pointing to a spot on the floor of his Easy Eye Studio. "Patrick was right there, behind the kit, and we just started to improvise, and we just start to make it up. We've done this so long, I think we've gotten really good at self-editing. It felt really natural, the whole thing"

You hear all the trademarks of The Black Keys on "Let's Rock" - the fuzzed out guitar tones, crushing drums, and the melodic rock songs that take in bits of influence from 70s AM radio choruses, scuzzy garage rock, T-Rex vocal melodies, and on "Breaking Down," even the same electric sitar from the Box Tops' "Cry Like a Baby." Carney has been quoted as saying this album is an homage to the electric guitar.

"If it weren't for the electric guitar, probably neither one of us would be playing music," added Carney. "I never got that good at it - I'm better at guitar now. And I bought a drumset, so someone could come to my house to play drums while I played guitar. But it just so happened that the first time Dan came to my house and plugged in, it was like, I guess I gotta play the drums - I can't play guitar like that. And that was how I started playing drums."

Since recording Turn Blue, both Black Keys got re-married and had kids, and spent a lot of time in Nashville producing other artists, including Dan's prolific work with Dr. John, Ray LaMontagne, Lana Del Rey, Cage the Elephant, The Pretenders, Shannon Shaw, Yola, and more, while Patrick worked with Tennis, Calvin Johnson, Repeat Repeat, and Michelle Branch - who became his wife. All this experience lends itself to their work now back together on "Let's Rock".

Patrick Carney reflected on the time apart from his bandmate, "If you want to have a band that's healthy after 18 years, you can't smother the thing. That's the thing that's happened the last couple of years. Learning to take a break. It's ok for Dan to sink all his time and passion into his label - it's a healthy thing. We were stoked to get back to the studio together, but happy to have that break."

"Let's Rock", is out on June 28th. The Current will air an hour long special on Thursday, June 27th at 9 p.m. with more songs and insight from my conversation in Nashville with the band.

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  • Jim McGuinn visits the Black Keys in Nashville
    The Current's Jim McGuinn (center) with Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney of the Black Keys at Auerbach's Easy Eye Sound Studio in Nashville. (courtesy Jim McGuinn)

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