The first time I heard The Black Keys they opened for Sleater-Kinney. For a fan of raw and dirty electric blues they were an immediate delight, playing with an urgency that reminded me of early Johnny Winter. Since then the duo’s sound has evolved, as when hip-hop artist Danger Mouse produced 2008’s Attack & Release. Like later Butterfield Blues Band, The Black Keys have started adding a touch of soul to the mix; on Brothers there’s even a cover of Jerry Butler’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
In different ways the less frenetic Brothers appeals to me as much as the concert I saw in 2003. I listened to the record on vinyl, and I love its vibrant sound; even with reverb piled on it still has plenty of punch. And the songwriting is so solid that several songs on the first three sides of the LP could have been released as singles. Yet the less catchy and more toned-down tracks on the last side offer much-needed balance. By then, it seems, enough songs have lamented and celebrated the dark side of male- female magnetism. Lyrically “Unknown Brother” and “These Days” dig deeper, and “Never Gonna Give You Up” is simply a nice warm love song.