TERRY GROSS, host:
Dan Auerbach is the singer-guitarist for the Black Keys, the critically acclaimed Akron, Ohio duo. The Keys specializes in rootsy blues-rock, but on his solo debut, Auerbach broadens his style to include folk, country and even psychedelic elements. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.
(Soundbite of song, "Trouble Weighs a Ton")
Mr. DAN AUERBACH (Musician): (Singing) What's wrong, dear brother? Have you lost your faith? Don't you remember a better place? Needles and things, done you in like the setting sun, oh, dear brother, trouble weighs a ton.
KEN TUCKER: Dan Auerbach commences his solo album by emphasizing the solo aspect, strumming an acoustic guitar and singing plaintively about how his troubles weigh a ton. At age 29, Auerbach sounds as though the troubles he's seen are considerable and hang heavily upon his slender shoulders. But then, when you steep yourself in the electric blues, that posture comes naturally. On this album's title song Auerbach distorts his voice and comes up with the sound from, as he describes it here, an open coffin lid. The voice of death come looking for you on "Keep it Hid."
(Soundbite of song, "Keep It Hid")
Mr. AUERBACH: (Singing) Lock the door and close the blinds. They're coming for me girl and I ain't got time. If they ask you, darlin'. Oh about what I did. Baby you gotta keep it hid.
TUCKER: The thing about Auerbach is that he doesn't wallow in either misery or menace. He doesn't overdo the drama inherent in the musical choices he makes. Where other performers might strive for authenticity in the form of anguished cries and tremulous guitar solos, Auerbach takes a different tack. He approaches a song such as this one, called "Heartbroken, in Disrepair," with a lusty energy, as though the subject matter of unhappiness exhilarates him. He gets off on the performance of heartbrokenness.
(Soundbite of song, "Heartbroken, in Disrepair")
Mr. AUERBACH: (singing) There is no light, there is no charm. All my belongings, I hold in one arm. Under the bridge, asleep in the shade. All of the terrible choices that I made. Searching for light, gasping for air. Heartbroken, in disrepair.
TUCKER: This album also permits Auerbach to dial down the volume that's usually cranked up on his Black Keys album. The result is the sound of a voice with what is perhaps a limited range, but is nonetheless very expressive. It's all about creating intimacy, drawing you in with artfully tentative vocals that sound as though he's working out the words as he figures out the guitar chords.
(Soundbite of song, "Goin' Home")
Mr. AUERBACH: (Singing) I've spent too long away from home. Did all the things I could have done. Gone are the days of endless thrills. I know I'm not the only one. So long, I'm goin', goin' home.
TUCKER: Of course, you can't take the blues-rocker out of the music entirely. The song I just played goes on to build after three and a half minutes to a guitar and drum rave-up. And on this terrific song called "My Last Mistake," Auerbach channels '60s bands like Canned Heat and the Troggs while writing a lyric that shows him to be very much a contemporary fellow sensitive to the needs of his loved ones, without being a wimp about it.
(Soundbite of song, "My Last Mistake")
Mr. AUERBACH: (Singing) Tell me now, tell me true. Of all the things I did to you was this the one. That made you break. Did I make my last mistake. Only you can play the game. Rope-a-dope and lay the blame. Can't you see, my body shake. 'cause I made my last mistake. I was out of line before…
TUCKER: Coming after the thick, meaty, grunginess of the last Black Keys album, "Attack & Release," this Auerbach solo album sounds like a clearing of the throat and mind. You don't need to know that he's usually half of a loud, thrashing, vehement music act to appreciate the floating, airy atmosphere of "Keep It Hid." Auerbach has said he wanted this album to quote "flow like scenes in a movie." And I think he succeeded. He's created not a Black Keys film noir, but his own kind of film — a melodrama with mellow humor, a mood piece about a hero who feels most comfortable delivering monologues in the dark, sitting on the side of a motel bed, looking out at a cold parking lot and a warm, full moon.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed Dan Auerbach's new CD, "Keep It Hid." You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site freshair.npr.org.
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