Second up in my irregular ‘Hidden Gems’ thing is Dan Auerbach’s Keep it Hid. You’ve heard of Auerbach right? Lead singer of The Black Keys who have done loads of stuff that might not have made it to the top of the charts but has made them a pretty successful alternative band. He made this solo record in 2009 which seems to be a bit more obscure. But in true musical ferret style, I found it, I played it, I loved it.
The record has the same bluesy foundation as The Black Keys, but if anything is a bit more experimental. Usually that term means “some electronica, a bit of rapping, maybe the odd donk on it”, but in this case I don’t mean that all. I mean, he’s gone back and mined a whole rich vein of musical history to bring in vintage soul production techniques and rhythm and blues song structures. ‘Heartbroken, in Disrepair’ has an almost circular, centrifugal guitar riff that’s unlike anything I’ve heard before. It goes round and round indefinitely, and yet is in no way repetitive. How did he manage that? It almost sounds like Joshua Tree era U2, albeit much more authentic and rooted than that band ever were.
Or take ‘Real Desire’, which is probably my favourite track of all. There is a rawness to the recording that puts the listener right there in the room with them. The drummer even seems to stumble over the beat at one point, which may annoy those who like their production to be ever so slick. Personally, I think it’s great. There is a real vintage sound to this one, it reminds me of early Motown and Stax recordings. You can imagine it dropping onto the jukebox at 3am in a diner out in the middle of nowhere.
The same goes for ‘Whispered Words’. It wouldn’t be out of place if it fell through a wormhole and landed on the desk of a DJ in America in the late ’50’s or early ’60’s. Don’t get me wrong, it would be an oddity back then because structurally it’s a millennial song, it bears all the marks of being post-punk and post-grunge and self-consciously retro. But in terms of how the instruments sound, how the production is put together, it would slot right in there with the early rock and roll records that were still sitting firmly in the shadow of electric blues.
If I’m being honest, I found Auerbach’s second solo record, released this year, to be a little disappointing. Not that it’s a bad record, but it’s much more countrified than this is, a love letter to Nashville (apparently). And I thought he was onto something so profound here that he should have followed the same path and seen where it could possibly take him. Well, it isn’t up to me to tell musicians what they should be doing, they have to follow their own inspirations I guess. But this album is so good, so incredibly good, that it hardly matters. It stands on its own as a work of near genius. It’s another one I listen to mostly at night, mostly in bed, sometimes falling asleep before it ends. I also have it on vinyl though, so play it a lot while I’m writing too.
Brothers is a great Black Keys album. El Camino too. This knocks both of them into a cocked hat in my opinion. One of the best and most timeless records you’ll ever hear.