The Black Keys, “Let’s Rock” (Nonesuch)
For their first album in five years, the duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney went back to basics.
There are no keyboards on “Let’s Rock.” There are no outside producers — no Danger Mouse, who worked on the duo’s past three albums, including the hits “Tighten Up” and “Lonely Boy.” It is a return to the Akron natives’ early days, when their songs were just Auerbach’s voice and guitar teamed with Carney’s drums.
But “Let’s Rock” — named for the final words of convicted murderer Edmund Zagorski before he died in the electric chair in Tennessee last year, which also explains the album cover — also marks the growth of the Black Keys as musicians, songwriters and producers. They skillfully take on numerous rock styles, making the move from “Rumours”-era Fleetwood Mac on “Get Yourself Together” to “All Things Must Pass”-era George Harrison on “Sit Around and Miss You” seem effortless.
That is not to say that the Black Keys are somehow stuck in the past. Though some inspirations are clearer than others, all of it is incorporated into their current sound, which seems more distinctive than ever, as most major rock bands currently bring hip-hop and EDM elements into their songs.
Maybe that’s why rock radio (and rock fans) have all lined up to welcome the Black Keys back. The album’s first single, the swaggering rocker “Lo/Hi,” set an impressive chart record in Billboard, becoming the first song to reach No. 1 on the alternative, mainstream rock, adult alternative and rock airplay charts simultaneously. On “Eagle Birds,” the Black Keys get their ZZ Top-ish Texas Boogie on, while the gorgeous, slow-building “Walk Across the Water” seems set to become their latest arena-rock anthem.
“Let’s Rock” proves itself to be a welcome invitation to what we’ve been missing while the Black Keys were away.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
Buddy and Julie Miller, “Breakdown on 20th Ave. South” (New West)
This husband and wife last made an album together in 2009. Since then, he’s continued to flourish as an Americana producer, sideman and solo artist, while she’s been home with chronic illness. That put a strain on the couple’s relationship, which is chronicled with unsparing candor on “Breakdown on 20th Ave. South” (the title refers to the Nashville street on which they live).
On the surface this may seem like a Julie solo record — she wrote all 12 songs and sings lead on all but one. But with his spare, unvarnished arrangements, a mix of acoustic and electric, and complementary vocal harmonies, Buddy again shows an unerring knack for ensuring that Julie is at her transfixing best, heightening the raw emotion and vivid, cut-to-the-bone nature of her lyrics: “I feel the fingers of the night/ Wrap around me tight/ Then it whispers in my ear/ Then screams out, there’s no one here,” she sings on the haunting “Unused Heart.”
Not that it’s all feelings of abandonment and alienation. “Till the Stardust Comes Apart,” for one, is a pledge of unending devotion. But what really speaks to the renewed strength of the Millers’ relationship is the unique power they continue to conjure when they make music together.
Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Ed Sheeran, “No. 6 Collaboration Project”
• 311, “Voyager”
• Banks, “III”
• New Order, “So It Goes”
• Scott Stapp, “Space Between the Shadows”
• Big K.R.I.T., “K.R.I.T. Iz Here”