Thursday, July 6, 2006
THE BLACK KEYS | Chulahoma EP | Fat Possum
The last track on The Black Keys’ Chulahoma, an EP covering songs by raw electric bluesman Junior Kimbrough, reveals the success of the blues-rock duo’s latest release better than any reviewer could. It is a phone message from Kimbrough’s widow saying that The Black Keys are the only performers to cover the rough-around-the-edges blues numbers like her husband used to play them.
It’s probably because the Keys have always used the un-varnished, lock groove jams of Fat Possum label mate Kimbrough as a template for their own sound. On Chulahoma, the Keys keep the spirit of the originals—which includes unfussy production—intact while adding subtle elements. “Have Mercy on Me” starts with hearty guitar work from singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach that hits you like a fire hose and then takes the repeating refrain of Kimbrough’s song and airs it out with a keyboard and Patrick Carney’s ping ponging percussion. While Kimbrough’s “Meet Me in the City” was just guitar and half mumbled lyrics, the Keys’ version is more palatable yet still retains the cut in a shack sound of the original.
The Black Keys superb renditions of this lesser known bluesman’s work on Chulahoma stands on its own as a superb release and should inspire listeners to seek out the oft-overlooked source material. —Stuart Thornton
MASON JENNINGS | Boneclouds | Epic
Singer/songwriters of today have it easy. Back when the term was coined, it meant someone derived in some fashion, large or small, from Dylan, maybe Carole King, maybe Joni Mitchell or James Taylor. Nowadays, the vast treasure trove of classic rock, punk rock, alternative, and semi-country is on limits.
Which is where Mason Jennings comes in. Calling him “No Depression” or “alt-country” is ridiculous, he is a talented writer of extraordinarily hooky songs. Whether the subject is love (“Be Here Now”) or war (“Jesus Are You Real?”) he knows his way around song construction.
With his loose limbed manner of rhyme (what he utilizes to scan and rhyme with “Jackson Square” has to be heard) and his dry, droll Neil Young meets Frank Black delivery, this is credible and utterly enjoyable music without any pretense other than direct communication. This is the sleeper of the summer and worthy of your immediate attention. —Johnny Angel
THE FUTUREHEADS | News and Tributes | Vagrant
One tour supporting Oasis later, the Futureheads have ditched much of the spastic energy of their 2004 self-titled debut. Gone are playful titles like “The City Is Here for You to Use,” replaced by solemn one-syllable jobs like “Cope” and “Face.” And the band’s riffage feels decidedly more Squeeze than Gang of Four, pointing to only one conclusion: The Futureheads are growing up—and going MOR.
The off-kilter melody and big chorus of “Burnt” suggest growing up doesn’t mean dumbing down, especially when Barry Hyde pleads, “Please remember to let me down gently” and that huge refrain fades into a delicate guitar arrangement. The reverb-heavy “Thursday” also manages to convey melancholy without sacrificing the innocence that originally made the band so endearing.
Too often, though, the Futureheads seem like they’ve aged too fast. “Many times we’d help each other out/Favors for favors is nothing new,” the band sings on “Favours for Favours,” unintentionally summing up the song’s problem: Its hooks just aren’t memorable. Worse, the title track turns the band’s once attractively awkward harmonies into generic adult-contemporary balladry. Forsaking their geekiness may open up some of those older, well-heeled Oasis fans’ ears to the Futureheads, but at the cost of what made them special in the first place. —Aaron Leitko