Black Keys guitarist and songwriter Dan Auerbach has tapped into a separate spring of earthy and electric blues variations on his first solo effort, Keep It Hid (CD – Vinyl – MP3). Written while on tour supporting the Keys’ Dangermouse-helmed Attack and Release album, Keep It Hid displays an organic nature in stark contrast to that ballyhooed release. Still, it’s clear that fans of the Keys won’t be turned off by this album, as it still features the band’s biggest touchstone: Auerbach’s stratospheric voice, which moans and wails over music that showcases his skill on a variety of instruments.
The album has a decidedly impromptu, live feeling full of spacious electric guitar, vintage acoustics and roomy drum sounds. Auerbach displays a litany of eclectic guitar styles during the proceedings, giving the album a cozy, personal feel that does justice to his approach. Songs like “I Want Some More,” “Heartbroken, In Disrepair,” and the filthy funk of “The Prowl” channel the same electric blues mojo as the Keys, but with a more Gothic feel.
This dark, southern-slanted sound is borne of echoing, psychedelic riffs, layered vocals, and fuzzy bass and rhythm tracks. It makes for a sensuous classic-rock sound at times, and a primal soul feeling throughout. He even wrings some inexplicable tuba-like sounds and tangible bayou voodoo out of the crackling title track, which is a highlight that comes complete with a lengthy, devilish guitar sojourn.
A simpler approach benefits the genuinely downtrodden acoustic blues and sincere harmonies of “Goin’ Home” and “Trouble Weighs A Ton,” as well as the gentle, sweeping “When the Night Comes,” which features mesmerizing harmonies courtesy of fellow Ohioan Jessica Lea Mayfield. Conversely, “Real Desire” basks in a bizarre blend of sanctified organ, distorted bass, and soulful vocals, and there’s outright experimentation found in the blustery interlude “Because I Should.”
“Whispered Words” and “My Last Mistake” have lovable atmospheres forged by classic song structure and reverent early-rock tones. “Mean Monsoon” mixes dramatic lyrics and moods with zinging guitar lines reminiscent of George Harrison’s icy leads, and the dirge-like “When I Left the Room” showcases some White Stripes-style aural turmoil.
While 14 tracks may be a bit much for an album that rarely changes stride from the electric blues chug-a-lug of tunes like “Street Walkin'” (which, at track 13, is where this listener found himself saying ‘enough already!’), Keep It Hid is still an album to keep in mind for almost any occasion – even your “best of 2009” lists. After years of burning up stages and studios across the world, wielding the powerful double-edged sword of the Black Keys’ bombastic blues crunch, it seems Auerbach couldn’t keep his soulful nature hid any longer.