There’s a dangling question mark over any artist who breaks from their main band to do a solo album. Hopefully, the music answers the question readily, announcing a vision some remove from their day job, but sometimes it takes longer to figure out. Outside of a slight folksiness on the opener, for a few cuts it’s hard to differentiate Keep It Hid (released February 10 on Nonesuch) from his work in The Black Keys, but soon Dan Auerbach begins to reveal new skin, washed by bayou waters and leathered by lonely miles, toughly tender and earthily fragrant. The first inkling of difference emerges in the doo-wop reverberations of “Whispered Words (Pretty Lies)” and “Real Desire” – a pair that given some polish could easily be The Drifters or The Platters, albeit with a gutbucket underbelly – followed by the early ’60s swoon balladry of “When The Night Comes,” where Auerbach goes deep with Jessica Lea Mayfield. Most younger artists that have any respect at all for rock’s early pioneers tend to kneel before Chuck Berry, but Auerbach draws from a totally different pool, notably ’50s Ike Turner, who shows up repeatedly in his alien guitar tunings and marvelously uncivilized picking.
Then, there’s Side B. Even on the CD, he’s labeled this like vinyl and it’s the stretch from “Mean Monsoon” (the album’s hypnotic standout) through soft spoken closer “Goin’ Home” that firms up Auerbach’s reasons for a solo venture away from drummer/partner in the Keys Patrick Carney. First off, the drums here are mostly a rumble, not Carney’s Bonham on hillbilly crank bang, which adds to the second half of Hid‘s prevailing Creedence Clearwater Revival feel. Oh, he’s not trying to mime “Proud Mary” but Auerbach exhibits peak John Fogerty level aptitude at simultaneously tongue kissin’ tradition and giving it a much-needed kick in the derriere. Everything is so wonderfully dirty, sultry stuff with way more than a leer in its voice. In fact, this set is probably Auerbach’s best turn as a singer yet, showing some sugar to go with all his briny spice. But make no mistake, this ain’t hand holdin’ music. This is high octane bump n’ grind that will make your fingers twitch as you look for a comely pound of flesh to leave some fingerprints on.
Instinct says this is a grower that’ll fully bloom only with time and repetition. Despite the caution of the opening tracks, this turns into something markedly different from The Black Keys. Birthed in Auerbach’s new home studio, this is a very personal work, and as such may not let us in as rapidly as the Keys’ newfangled chooglers. However, one wonders – perhaps while quietly enraptured by the lilting closer – if the ultimate reward for one’s patience might not outshine his main gig.
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