I would say that I very much believe in love at first sight. Or maybe when it comes to music, first listen. When you fall in love this way, however, you don’t often realise what’s happening until after the fact. But it is the very best way to fall in love.
I can remember the first ever moment I heard the Black Keys. The year was, of course, 2003. It was a Saturday, and I was in a car driving back home (from somewhere :s). For some reason a Jonathan Woss show was streaming through the radio, which would be odd enough because, why would you listen to him on the radio? And even odder still, from his show, one of the grittiest, roughest, grooviest and most soulful sounds I had ever heard was quickly and confidently taking control of my senses. Deep satisfaction!
I never thought I’d be grateful to Jonathan Woss for anything…
…As soon as I got home the very first thing I did was to check out the Black Keys website. Endless delight!
Listening to the Black Keys is a bit like touching a van de graaf generator. It’s electricity that pulses through your whole body and makes your hair stand on end! It’s like being caught in the midst of a low voltage, high frequency electrical storm. And especially live. A low deep rumble, it seems quite distant at first, starting gently, but with increasing vigor the tension rises and rises. The guitar gets tighter and tighter, the drums get looser and looser, and the sound almost sticks to you, it gets so thick you think you can feel it!
But don’t think of the ‘Keys music as some kind of wild, erratic, confused mess. As even in their improvisation there is order and harmony and complete control. Think of them as Impressionist painters. Because more than anything, they are trying to evoke feeling and emotion. The band’s sound has progressed and adapted and changed quite dramatically through the seven studio albums they have recorded. Particularly the seventh, with a most intentional and decisive change in direction. But there is one record they have produced that I think captures the essence of what they are about perfectly. Chulahoma is a collection of songs written by Junior Kimbrough (see several posts ago…) and covered blissfully by the ‘Keys. What they do on this record is dig deep down into the heart of Junior’s soul music and pull it right out for everyone to see. Everything I have said so far is more true on the arrangements of the six covers on Chulahoma than anything else they have ever done. There is a beautifully tender and affectionate resonance, musically and emotionally, on the record. You can’t listen to the music with your ears any more than you must listen to it with your heart and mind. If Monet were a musician, his songs would at least feel the same as this record does.
There are lots and lots and lots of ‘artists’ out there who know how to make music. They can think it through and write it down and mathematically work out the equivalent of a musical equation. 2+2 = your basic factory produced, radio friendly chart song. But the Black Keys, more than most, have the ability to let uniqueness of their personalities flow through into even the aesthetic of the music they so wonderfully continue to produce.
Here are two songs, one a Junior Kimbrough cover from Chulahoma, one of my particular favourites, Meet Me In The City. Try and make the effort to listen to this through good speakers and at a decent volume. Set You Free is my favourite ‘Keys original. From their second record, 2003’s most aptly titled Thickfreakness. Enjoy!