Raw, gritty, and real, The Black Keys are back with their third effort Rubber Factory, released on indie blues label Fat Possum. But don't pigeonhole these two 20-something Ohioans strictly in the blues genre. Rubber Factory clearly establishes that, with Dan Auerbach on guitar and Patrick Carney on drums, The Black Keys are first and foremost a rock band. Yet Auerbach's poetic musings--exploring isolation, desolation, desperation, heartbreak, and heartache--cry the blues.

Factory kicks off with "When The Lights Go Out" and the sonic landscape immediately paints the mood of an old Western, instantly establishing the twosome as outlaws--which they clearly are in the world of today's formulaic, unoriginal, commercial music industry. Even more non-conventional, Carney and Auerbach retained total artistic control by recording, producing, and mixing the entire album themselves.

Auerbach establishes his vocal prowess on tunes like "All Hands Against His Own" and "Stack Shot Billy," where his singing and guitar licks are in such synchronicity they become nearly indistinguishable--a high complement indeed. "The Lengths" bounces between melancholy and mournful as Auerbach laments lost love while having an emotional catharsis through his lap steel guitar. Meanwhile, Carney holds down the rhythm masterfully through the entire album and provides an especially solid backbone on more upbeat tunes like "The Desperate Man" and "Girl Is On My Mind."

The Keys are not a "jam band," but make no mistake--these boys jam. The Keys' last effort, Thickfreakness (recorded in a mind-blowing 12 hours), generated much underground buzz and is on many critics' best of 2003 list. Rubber Factory might just find its name up on those same lists in 2004 as it presents raw, emotional music with soul, style, and substance. Auerbach and Carney have established themselves as a serious industry presence yet remain relatively below the mainstream radar--for now.

John Smrtic
JamBase | Ohio
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[Published on: 10/12/04]

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