Black Keys: Ohio Players (digital outlets)

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Beautiful People (Stay High)
Black Keys: Ohio Players (digital outlets)

Because Black Keys have appeared so often at Elsewhere, we feel we know them well. Although to give credit where it's due, the duo haven't settle on a style for long.

When we first saw them a couple of decades ago in a gig at Auckland's now-closed Kings Arms, Dan Auerbach (guitar, vocals) and drummer Patrick Carney were a ragged, blues-rock garage band but – like the early White Stripes – with enough punk energy and indie credentials to pull the student radio crowd.

Signed to Mississippi's Fat Possum label alongside their blues elders R.L. Burnside and T-Model Ford, they delivered confidently ragged rock albums which tapped rural blues traditions.

Then into their signature sound they incorporated rap (the Blackroc album 2009), gritty Chicago soul blues (Brothers, 2010), New Wave and glam (El Camino, 2011) and soul pop, glam stomp and psychedelia (Turn Blue, 2014).

There were collaborations (RZA, Missy Elliott among them), covers (Bob Dylan, Captain Beefheart), numerous awards and Auerbach established himself as a producer in Nashville working with Bombino, Ray LaMontagne, the Pretenders, Yola, CeeLo Green and others.

Still only in their mid 40s, Auerbach and Carney (also a producer with a Nashville studio) have a deep well of influences and genres to draw from for their 12th studio album.

Ohio Players – the title self-referential for the duo who formed in Akron, Ohio and also a nod to the Seventies black soul-funk band of that name notorious for salacious album covers – is a collection of borrowings, acknowledgements and guests.

They adopt an urban soul strut on the disco-influenced Don't Let Me Go and Paper Crown (with scratching, rapper Juicy J and Beck, who gets a writing credit on half the 14 songs) and Primal Scream's psychedelic-gospel swagger for Beautiful People (Stay High).

They match Oasis' Beatle fixation on the swaying, singalong ballad On the Game with Noel Gallagher playing George Harrison-styled slide and there's a fine cover of William Bell and Booker T.'s yearning soul song I Forgot to be Your Lover.

Black Keys have many previous albums to compare Ohio Players with and in that it comes up short with some undistinguished songs (Candy and Her Friends with rapper Lil Noid, Please Me), reliance on borrowed clothes and references, collaborators pulling it in different directions and an ill-defined song selection.

Interesting and energetic, but you might wish this time they'd settled on a style for a while.


You can hear this album at bandcamp here

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