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DOUG GALLANT: Black Keys end five-year hiatus with ‘Let’s Rock’

The Black Keys have ended a five-year recording hiatus with the release of “Let’s Rock”, a 12-song set that embraces the straightforward rock sound that first made them a draw almost 20 years ago.
The Black Keys have ended a five-year recording hiatus with the release of “Let’s Rock”, a 12-song set that embraces the straightforward rock sound that first made them a draw almost 20 years ago. - contributed

It’s hard to believe it’s been five years since The Black Keys released “Turn Blue”.

That’s a long time to go without a new record.

Or without a new Black Keys record I should say because singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach actually released two albums during the band’s recording hiatus. He cut a solo album, “Waiting on a Song”, two years ago. He also released “Yours, Dreamily”, the first record for The Arcs, a side project he undertook in 2015 with Leon Michaels.

While those albums were well received, Black Keys fans have been patiently waiting for a new band album.

And now they have it.

Simply titled “Let’s Rock”, the band’s ninth studio album features 12 new songs from Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney, songs that mark their return in many ways to the straightforward rock the duo played when they first formed the band close to 20 years ago. Everything that first grabbed our attention is here, that gritty mix of blues, punk, indie rock and whatever else grabbed them at the moment.

While the music may have a familiar ring to it for fans who were there during the early years the calibre of the recording itself is so head and shoulders above those early records. How could it not be? Eight records in – nine counting “Let’s Go” – The Black Keys have grown exponentially as songwriters and as musicians. They also have a much clearer vision of what they want their music to be and what they don’t want it to be.

“When we’re together, we are The Black Keys, that’s where that real magic is, and always has been since we were 16,” Auerbach says of the record.

Carney says the record is like an homage to electric guitar.

“We took a simple approach and trimmed all the fat like we used to.”

And did it work? You bet.

In May, “Lo/Hi”, a single from “Let’s Rock”, topped Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Songs, Adult Alternative Songs, Rock Airplay and Alternative Songs charts, making it the first time any song has reached No. 1 at all four formats simultaneously.

While “Lo/Hi” is a killer track, it’s got lots of company on the record. I have my favourites, but almost every track here is a contender.

“Let’s Rock” was written, tracked live and produced by Auerbach and Carney at Easy Eye Sound studio in Nashville. The record features backing vocals from Leisa Hans and Ashley Wilcoxson.

Other choice offerings here include “Shine A Little Light”, “Tell Me Lies,” “Every Little Thing”, “Under the Gun” and “Fire Walk With Me.”

The six-time Grammy Award winners will support the record with a 32-city North American tour starting Sept. 23. Modest Mouse will be with them on all dates. Shannon & The Clams, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, *repeat repeat, and Jessy Wilson will each open select shows. The band also headlines 2019’s Life Is Beautiful festival in Las Vegas on Sept. 21.

There are only two Canadian tour dates so far, Toronto on Oct. 9 and Vancouver on Nov. 24. The closest American date is Boston on Oct. 11.

Doug Gallant is a freelance writer and well-known connoisseur of a wide variety of music. His On Track column will appear in The Guardian every second Saturday. To comment on what he has to say or to offer suggestions for future reviews, email him at dpagallant@gmail.com.

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