The Rock Bible, a set of rules or commandments that have been spoken, followed and added to by rockers and fans alike since the infancy of the dirty little genre known as rock 'n' roll, were recently compiled into book form and published by Chunklet. One of the said commandments that struck me like a line drive to the forehead was “No white man shall sing or play the blues.” At first, I believed this to be ridiculous and more than a bit exclusionary; then I gave it more thought.
I came to the conclusion that this rule was true but for two exceptions. Stevie Ray Vaughan, the late great blues guitarist, should be allowed inclusion because, I believe, he was in fact a black dude in the body of a white kid from Texas. The passion with which he played, partied, lived his life and sang allow him everlasting residence in the blues’ warm embrace.
The other white guy to receive a hall pass is not Clapton, Mayall, Jagger, Morrison, Winwood, Plant or Presley; no, the other dude is a fireball guitarist from the world renowned blues music Mecca, Akron, Ohio. His name is Dan Auerbach. Auerbach is perhaps best known as one half of indie blues giants, The Black Keys.
Last year, the pair stuck their heads out of the underground with Attack and Release, an album produced by Danger Mouse. Having built a loyal fan base with five strong self-produced original albums and a tribute record to blues legend Junior Kimbrough, The Keys are on the fast track to introduce the blues to a new generation. What, then is the most logical course of action for a band that has this kind of momentum going? Why, take a break and make your first solo record, of course.
For many musicians this has been a gamble that has not paid off. But for Auerbach, it was a winning roll of the dice. Keep It Hid, Auerbach’s first solo record is a solid piece of electric blues semi-mastery; he takes all the moves he does with The Keys and pushes them into another dimension: throwing the listener off balance with tempo changes, multiple instruments and flat out jams. Instead of stopping in his normal Hendrix/Cream neighborhood for inspiration, Auerbach takes the time machine even further back on Keep It Hid, studying the likes of Lightin’ Hopkins, Leadbelly and Skip James. This move produces very few hiccups, if any. Like another who mines gold from music history, Beck, it is clear that Dan is a young man who not only knows the history but respects it completely and without question.
The record opens with an emotional whisper, “Trouble Weighs a Ton”, a song that is blues balladry in its purest form. From there on Keep smolders and burns brightly for 14 songs; “My Last Mistake” is a great bow to “Get Back” era Beatles. “Heartbroken, Disrepair” and “Real Desire” are tunes that would sound right at home with Otis Redding and the Stax family. As where these songs have a delicate heartbreak lingering just below their surfaces, “Streetwalkin’” is a straight up, ass shakin’ boogie blues number perfect for any barroom.
Hacienda, Auerbach’s adhoc backing band on many of the cuts, make some of the songs sound like The Black Keys if The Black Keys was more than the dynamic duo. Hell, it’s very possible that some of the songs are filled out Keys numbers that didn’t make the cut for Attack and Release. But that carries little or no weight with me; if anything, if they had made the final tally maybe Attack would have been great instead of just decent.
I will readily admit that I was big fan of Auerbach’s talent before hearing Keep It Hid but that would have not saved him from me throwing the album under the proverbial bus had it really sucked. But thankfully, it is not a steaming pile. So Mr. Auerbach, you shall be spared the crush of the bus; please use this reprieve wisely. Go be happy, sing the blues. No matter what the Bible says.