Some lead singers need a break from a band to try something new (Gwen Stefani, anyone?), some singers take a break to do pretty much the same thing (Albert Hammond Jr., for starters). On that scale, Dan Auerbach, the lead singing half of the Black Keys, would rate somewhere in the middle on his new release, Keep It Hid. While not much has changed in the type of music he’s putting out, there does seem to be quite a bit more instrumentation. There’s just a lack of power in contrast to some of the Keys’ material, specifically last year’s effort, Attack & Release. While Auerbach maintains the bluesy feel, many of the tracks are most definitely quieter, though there are exceptions. In other words, putting the album on a scale all of its own may be a difficult task for long time fans of the band.
Keep It Hid kicks off with “Trouble Weights a Ton”, featuring only a quiet guitar part and harmonized vocals between Auerbach and his uncle, James Quine. The duo sound great together and help balance each other well and almost produce a bluegrass style tune. “I Want Some More” is a definite pick up for Attack fans. Auerbach shows he definitely learned a few tricks from Danger Mouse playing guitar, drums, and keyboards on the track. The parts all fit perfectly as the singer wails away on his vocal parts.
Continuing down the path of rocking, “Heartbroken, In Disrepair” brings the sound back to early Keys material (outside of the harmonizing vocals). The rhythm guitar player also seems to help Auerbach out a lot as he goes off on grimy solo.
At this point the album turns into an auditory sleep aid. “Whispered Words,” “Real Desire,” and “When the Night Comes” are warm tunes carefully crafted like a glass of warm milk. The latter featuring Jessica Lea Mayfield may be the most beautiful tune on the album as Auerbach showcases his range and Mayfield appears only when needed, making the track that much more powerful.
“Mean Monsoon” wakes up a little bit featuring a double bass, as well as Quine on rhythm again. The track combines the quieter sections of the album effectively with the louder portions making for a very tasty listen. “The Prowl” has an absolutely nasty groove that makes it irresistible.
Title track “Keep It Hid” leaves something to be desired and kind of comes off as a Keys’ b-side. Auerbach’s vocals remain strong but the guitar lick and drums just don’t draw attention like the rest of the album. However, just when you start to think you might be getting into some filler, “My Last Mistake” comes on strong, feeling like a classic rock song from the ’70s. Everything just works here; the guitar solos are great, balancing out the strong vocals, and the drums carry a brilliant rhythm to what is one of the album’s best tracks.
We couldn’t stay away from the blues for long though, and “When I Left the Room” brings us back to basics. The distorted vocals sound as if Auerbach is shouting the lyrics at us down a long hallway. “Street Walkin’” is another track like “The Prowl” that is a fun listen, and has a great groove that carries the song all the way through. In a rather fitting finale, “Goin Home” closes things out with a rather quiet, sweet tale.
If you go into this album expecting a hard rocking, bluesy Black Keys style effort, expect to be disappointed (as I was the first couple of listens.) If you give the album the respect it deserves, be prepared to be thrilled, and excited about this extra nugget of Auerbach’s immense talent and song styling abilities.