The Black Keys – Delta Kream

9 Jun

Less than two years after their 9th studio album “Let’s Rock” (2019), blues two-piece heavyweights the Black Keys are back with another album – kind of.

Delta Kream, released on May 14th, consists of eleven classic blues songs as covered by Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney of the Black Keys, along with various industry veterans on supporting instrumentals. As the album’s name suggests, the tracks here all originate from the Mississippi river delta, and the great blues tradition that has been institutionalized there for the past century. Delta Kream – beyond serving as the Black Keys’ 10th album – also acts as a fantastic primer into the very specific Mississippi hill country blues sound.

Seven of the eleven songs here are from North Mississippi contemporary blues legends RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. The other three songs here are from Mississippi hill country blues progenitors Ranie Burnette, Mississippi Fred McDowell and John Lee Hooker, and Delta blues musician Big Joe Williams. Between these six original songwriters, one can truly feel the essence and tradition of the Mississippi hill country blues – the hypnotic groove, the steady repeating riffs, the lilting vocals and so much more. On Delta Kream (and really, in their whole career), the Black Keys have paid respectful homage to these classic blues songs, and elevated them for modern times with their own signature electric blues style.

We have already written about the album’s first “single” – if you can call it that – called “Crawling Kingsnake”, a rollicking, Doors-esque take on a blues standard that was born sometime in the 1920s. However, that’s far from the only stand-out track on here. “Poor Boy a Long Way Home”, a traditional blues song that has been around since at least the 1920s, sets the record on fire with the boisterous slide guitar taking center stage. “Going Down South”, an RL Burnside classic, centers on a surprisingly good falsetto from Auerbach, with the entrancing guitar and steady drums providing almost a rail car sound – as if one really is traveling down south in the olden days.

Probably the two best songs on the record are both by Junior Kimbough. On the yearnful “Stay All Night”, Auerbach’s soulful vocals run as a common thread through the mesmerizing exchanges between the various musicians on the track. “Do the Romp” has already been covered by the Black Keys as “Do the Rump” in their 2002 album The Big Come Up, but on the Delta Kream version, they strip it back to a much cleaner, bouncier, classic sound.

According to the Black Keys, the album was recorded in “about 10 hours” in a sans-rehearsal jam session with guitarist Kenny Brown and bassist Eric Deaton, who have literally worked with some of the aforementioned hill country blues legends over the course of their careers. In its own way, Delta Kream is more iconic than just a cover album. It is an honest distillation of musical history spanning ten decades; a living, breathing artifact of a storied, hyperlocal musical tradition. The more you dig into it, the better this album gets.

Delta Kream retains all of the spontaneity and charm of a recorded live concert – which is essentially what it is – while adding the signature Black Keys touch to a truly classic blues repertoire. Highly recommend for anyone with even a passing interest in blues rock.

Rating: 9/10

Best tracks: “Crawling Kingsnake”, “Do the Romp”, “Stay All Night”

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