The Black Keys - “America’s most trusted band,” according to The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert – are celebrating the twentieth anniversary of their first-ever album, The Big Come Up, by returning to their outsider blues-soaked roots. Dropout Boogie, (13 May 2022; Nonesuch records), their 11th studio album, represents a back to basics trip for the band after last year’s hill country-blues detour on Delta Kream, which saw them covering songs by R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough.
There is a twist to the tale however as on this occasion Dan Auerbach – perhaps here with his Harmony H78 guitar - and drummer Patrick Carney, have signed up Memphis garage-rock singer-songwriter Greg Cartwright, Kings of Leon producer Angelo Petraglia, and ZZ Top legend Billy F Gibbons to add spice to the mix.
The two blues fans from Akron, Ohio, kick off the album with the swanky lead single Wild Child, which features Cartwright and Petraglia. It’s a funky-rock number with a great riff that immediately grabs you as Auerbach intones: “I’m just a stranger, With a twisted smile and a wandering eye, Your heart is in danger, Come close now let me tell you a lie.” The next track, It Ain’t Over, has a more laid back, even soul-oriented, feel to it, but is a real foot-tapper.
Your Team Is Looking Good is another cut with a real crunch to it, with guitars sounding like something ZZ Top might have done. Talking of which, Mr Gibbons himself features on the following track, Good Love, where he steps up to deliver a fine solo. The trio should perhaps collaborate on a bigger project together, as this is a real standout track.
How Long slows the groove down and could well become a fan favourite; I love it. The album closes appropriately with another groovy number, Didn’t I Love You, with Auerbach pitifully singing: “I'm sorry I hurt you, honey, I'm just a complicated fool, Down in the dirt, all muddy, I know you know, that's no excuse, But didn't I love you?”
Dropout Boogie shows the bohemian duo doing what they do best, creating an offbeat but hugely popular brand of music. It is said that a lot of the tracks on the album were recorded in one take, which seems to be most in tune with both their sound and their environment. As Auerbach concludes: “That’s always been the beauty of the thing Pat and I do. It’s instant. We’ve never really had to work at it. Whenever we’d get together, we’d just make music, you know? We didn’t know what we were going to do, but we’d just do it and it would sound cool”.