Dan Auerbach isn’t the most recognizable name in the rock canon, but mention his band, Akron, Ohio’s, blues rock revivalists The Black Keys and images flood in of this low sized, bearded front-man backed up by his tall wiry drumming accomplice Patrick Carney belting out many a fine blues rock number stretching across five respectable albums. Bookended by career highs—2002’s The Big Come Up and last year’s Dangermouse helmed Attack & Release—The Black Keys are a band to be played loud, loud with a cold beer in one hand and a pool cue in the other on a sweltering Mississippi evening.
Here in 2009 we have Keep it Hid, Mr. Auerbach’s solo album. Stemming from sound tests and demo’s recorded while constructing his own recording studio `Akron Analog’ near his Ohio home, Auerbach didn’t actually intend to make a record. Yet through built up of hours of recordings to test his purpose-built vintage equipment he stopped thinking of the recordings as separate random tracks but as songs that would become part of a finished record.
We might assume a member of a loud rock band quieting down means a ‘one man and his guitar’ vibe but we’d be mistaken here. Sure, there are one or two ‘one man’ efforts, notably the Will Oldham-esque album opener “Trouble Weighs a Ton’, but mostly we are treated to a range of delightful vintage sounding psychedelic blues misfits that nevertheless remain loyal to the Black Keys tradition. Auerbach is quoted as saying that he didn’t want to try to sound different from The Black Keys: “That would have sounded half-assed and boring, I just wanted to do things I loved.” and this is the reason this album sounds so cohesive despite it’s varied tempos. It’s also refreshing to discover that the songwriting isn’t exposed as weak as so happens with many solo album attempts when they are stripped of the screech, scream and volume associated with their ‘proper’ jobs.
We’re singing mostly about girls here. “‘Heartbroken in Disrepair,” which tells the story exactly as it’s title suggests, with it’s repetitive guitar riff sounding like blues in reverse (with added reverb) is a highlight. The breathtaking “Whispered Words,” is something Otis Redding would have been proud of. Mr. Auerbach does pain well.
As with the nature of its recording process Keep it Hid features studio-nut Auerbach playing most of the instruments himself, bringing in his drummer uncle, cousin guitarist and a double bassist from Cleveland to back him up when he grabbed some serious studio time. Singer songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield, whose album Auerbach produced last year, lends a wonderful feminine touch when she duets with him on “Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be.”
Contrary to Auerbach’s admission that this is an ‘accidental’ record, Keep it Hid feels and sounds like a fully realized piece of work with no weak track to be found. Some people might not find this album ‘risky’ enough, but it’s rich with wonderful sounding grooves and poignant songs that would suit any day’s work. With this debut solo album it seems Dan Auerbach is still in sweltering Mississippi, but this time he’s asking us to turn the down volume a little, find our favorite girl, and sit on a porch swing. A real find early in the year and a true talent in Dan Auerbach exposed.