When any band decides to record at a studio with a legendary rep – in this case, Muscle Shoals Sound in Alabama – it can go either way. They may be genuinely invigorated by their environment and commune with its ghosts, or they might just sign the cheque, hoping that some of the studio’s gold-dust rubs off on their own dumb-assed efforts and bestows ‘authenticity’ by association (Give Out but Don’t Give Up by Primal Scream – need we say more?). But on the evidence of The Black Keys’ sixth LP, the trip to Muscle Shoals was more of a spiritual homecoming than a visit.
Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are primarily peddlers of raw, heavy, low-slung and grubby nu-blues, with its roots in garage rock/lo-fi punk and the Delta tradition. So meaty you could feed it to a dog, their deceptively simple sound also has a fantastic urgency. Brothers is no less economic or sensual, but it expands deep into soul territory, adding notes of textured psychedelia and cinematic strings and, as a result, is more a rueful and seductive cooing in the ear than a full-on assault on the senses.
Singer-songwriter and guitarist Auerbach – whose voice shifts from rough blues holler to anguished soul entreaty in a flash – has said that his and Carney’s relationship has been ‘tested in many ways, but at the end of the day, we’re brothers’. Not that you’d suspect friction when listening to the over-easy likes of ‘I’m Not the One’ and ‘These Days’, the lo-fi cover of Jerry Butler’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’, the glitter-dusted stomp that is ‘Howlin’ for You’ or the punchy, Clash-toned ‘Tighten Up’. It’s easy to fake ‘naturalism’ if surface effect is all you’re after, but warmth and creative integrity ooze from every groove of this great record.
Available now online.