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The Black Keys: Attack and Release

April 23, 2008, 12:00 am
Blues music in all its guises serves as a big part of modern rock's foundation. In fact, the relevance of traditional roots blues music is largely dependent on reinterpretation.

The Black Keys' seventh album, Attack and Release, should be a new***image1*** touchstone in contemporary blues and contemporary rock but, sadly, it misses the mark. The Black Keys has cut its teeth on a relatively simple formula of Black Sabbath-style chords and drum assemblage. Unlike its obvious counterparts, the White Stripes, the Black Keys' sound has resounding believability and candor.

The band's crowning achievement to date is the album Chulahoma: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough. The album covers six tracks from the late Mississippi bluesman who, along with RL Burnside and Mississippi Fred McDowell, is part of the trinity of 20th century roots blues masters. Despite the self-congratulatory phone message left by Kimbrough's widow (included at the end of the album), the Keys managed to climb into Kimbrough's songs and realize their complexity and beauty without looking down on reinvention.

Attack is produced, interestingly enough, by Danger Mouse (Brian Burton)-the resident genius behind both Gnarls Barkley and Gorillaz. The Keys' music is considerably spare, so any major modification or production work would have to include the addition rather than subtraction of musical elements. Mouse, who is known for his deep yet accessible orchestral arrangements, has a broad canvas with The Black Keys' music. But rather than fully realizing the strengths of the musicians and the producer, the result is clumsy and predictable. The album, which originated as a project for Ike Turner, is not awash with needless complexity, but the additional instrumentation is ancillary and never quite a part of the band's sonic range. 

Still, the album does have it merits. The tracks "I Got Mine" and "Psychotic Girl" has original Keys signatures that are sonically playful. This is perhaps the most interesting result of the Black Keys and Danger Mouse pairing. Ultimately, it would be interesting to hear what other paths the Black Keys and Danger Mouse would be willing to take in future projects.

Attack and Release
Nonesuch Records


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