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November 30, 2016

‘El Camino’ showcases blues rock talents

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Within the past decade, there has not been a band that could effectively fuse blues rock with jam rock. Or at the very least, there was not a group that was based in the blues rock genre.

Many music listeners harked back to the day when groups such as Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones dominated the music scene. These were bands that perfectly mixed blues and rock and whose concerts featured long segments of improvisation and jamming. There was a void to be filled in the music world and it was one that had to be filled by the right group.

In 2002, the Black Keys released their first album “The Big Come Up,” which coincidently described how the band would be received by music critics and fans in the decade to come.

Since their debut, the Black Keys have released a total of seven studio albums, two EPs and one bootleg album. All of those releases have showcased the Black Keys’ unique sound.

In December, the Black Keys released “El Camino,” which so far has received strong accolades from the music industry. While the members of the Black Keys – guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney – are originally from Akron, Ohio, they moved the production of “El Camino” to a studio in Nashville, Tenn.

The move to Tennessee undoubtedly had influence on the album, as Nashville is known for is vibrant musical history. Influences from early styles of American music can be found on “El Camino” from the opening track.

The album begins with “Lonely Boy,” a track that has a strong opening guitar riff that Auerbach described as being influenced by rockabilly artist Johnny Burnette, who incidentally is also from Nashville. This is probably the more popular track on the “El Camino,” but there are others that display the band’s wide range of musicianship.

And while Auerbach displays his skill with a guitar of many of the tracks, Carney’s power-packed drumming cannot be ignored. The best example of Carney’s drumming is “Dead and Gone,” in which the drumming intro sets the pace and rhythm for the entire song. Soon the whole tune becomes built around Carney’s drumming pattern, almost the same way John Bonham’s hypnotic drumming style carried “Kashmir.”

While the Black Keys are foundationally a blues rock jam band, they experiment in a different style with “Little Black Submarines.” It begins with a slow acoustic set accompanied by soft vocals, but then the tempo slowly picks up and about halfway through the song, a spirited jam session takes over. It is interesting to note that the main lyrics from the acoustic set are repeated in the second half of the song, and yet they have a different feel and meaning to them because of the music.

That is probably one of the best characteristics about the Black Keys – they have an uncanny ability to show different styles in one tune, but then provide different perspectives when listening to the lyrics in both styles. The words “…a broken heart is blind” has a different feel when played in an acoustic atmosphere and a rock style.

One of the best things about the Black Keys themselves is that they are a small band – a duo of just one drummer and one guitarist. They employ other musicians to help them round out their sound. But on “El Camino” the most noticeable thing is the backup female vocalists that find their way onto the album. A solid amount of the songs on “El Camino” have backup singers, making it almost a theme of the album.

The lyrics of the Black Keys are not spectacular or inspiring, but their musical talents are what people see as the best part of the band. Considering that it is just Auerbach and Carney involved with writing and composing the music, their records sound amazing. They each have the right amount of musical skill and talent to do exactly what they need to do: produce great music.

Adam Colorado can be reached at gcolorad@student.umass.edu.

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