The Black Keys - Chulahoma EP
Making an album of covers is always a risky business. Things can come off looking like you've run out of ideas, no matter how many times you mention that "these were my greatest influences". The Black Keys seem to have gone about it in the right way though - a short, 6 track EP of covers from their major influence, blues legend Junior Kimbrough. There's a nice piece in the sleeve notes by Dan Auerbach (guitarist and vocalist) mentioning how his entire world was turned upside down by hearing one of Juniors' albums and the unlisted track 7 is a telephone recording of Juniors' wife thanking The Black Keys for covering his songs and doing it in a respectable manner - this project and these songs are obviously close to the boys hearts.
The sound is unmistakeably The Black Keys but further tunes into traditional blues - the slow nature of the songs, Dan's soulful and deep vocals wailing, sometimes almost a mumble, whilst the production is as sparse as ever - just the guitars and drums in the mix. The music does sound as great as ever, Dan's guitar work seems to be improving on each record and on the closing track, My Mind Is Ramblin', he seems to let go, you can almost hear him trying to channel the late Junior's spirit, the fuzzed up guitar sounds glorious.
This is as close to traditional Blues as the Keys have come and, in the end, it's this more pedestrian take on proceedings that takes the edge away from one of their major strengths - their ability to spin their influences into their own sound, their own method of working. It's hard to see where this fits into their back catalogue other than a more nostalgic look back at their influences and maybe trying to get a new generation of listeners to go back and look at early Blues. Whilst this is an honourable thing to do and this is by no means a poor record, I would just have preferred them to carry on their forward momentum and continue their post-Blues exploration.