The Black Keys have always sought to keep it simply. Two musicians, one guitar, and one drum kit, their blues-soaked sound owes more to the Hill Country blues tradition that has such deep and profound roots in Mississippi than their garage rock peers. ‘Delta Kream’ finds the reunited pair acknowledging those roots in a manner that is both respectful and laced with hellfire, and it makes for their most absorbing listening experience in a decade.
Recorded as close to live as possible at Easy Eye studio in Nashville, it’s the spiritual heir to their Junior Kimbrough tribute ‘Chulahoma’ while reflecting the broader Hill Country tradition. ‘Crawling Kingsnake’ owes much to the trance-inducing bottleneck techniques popularised by Mississippi Fred McDowell, who ghost also haunts the plaintive lines that emanate from ‘Louise’.
It’s far from a pastiche, however; Black Keys add their own sweat and toil to the mixture, making ‘Stay All Night’ resonate with primal lust. ‘Going Down South’ has a neat strut to it, while ‘Sad Days, Lonely Nights’ – arguably Junior Kimbrough’s trademark song – shudders with a primeval weight.
‘Walk With Me’ reeks of cheap booze and nicotine, while the organ-soaked Stax moments on ‘Come And Go With Me’ seem to link the Hill Country Tradition to broader aspects of Southern music. There are a few misses, however. ’Do The Romp’ is sheer bar room bluster, while ‘Coal Black Mattie’ seems to stray too far into the line of being merely copyist.
Yet when it works, it certainly works – potent and atmospheric ‘Delta Kream’ undoubtedly has its heart in the right place, while the core material stands as some of the most addictive elements of modern blues songwriting. Containing a raw energy that harks back to those early Fat Possum recordings, ’Delta Kream’ is a truly potent elixir.
Words: Robin Murray
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