Keep your hands off of my girl,
She don't belong to you.

If you're not familiar with The Black Keys, you need to go correct that before you come back to this writeup. Go take a listen to The Big Come Up or Rubber Factory; I'll wait a bit. It's important. You're doing yourself a complete disservice if you haven't listened to this duo before.

The Black Keys have covered Junior Kimbrough before: "Do The Rump", from the The Big Come Up, and "Everywhere I Go" from Thickfreakness. Indeed, Chulahoma would be their last release with Fat Possum Records, the same label Junior Kimbrough was signed to for his entire career. The album title refers to Chulahoma, Mississippi. Junior owned and ran a juke joint called "Junior's Place" there from 1992 to his death in 1998. Two of his sons kept it open until 2000, when it burned down.

The Black Keys appropriated a lot of Junior's sound, but if they had to pick someone to do it to, they picked a good man. Junior's trademark style was a trance-inducing, mean sort of blues; the Black Keys aren't as hard-edged, but they're just as smooth. Compared to their other albums Chulahoma is a much slower affair. Their familiar style is warped into a sort of drifting, low-fi psychedelia. I almost want to call it relaxing, but there's an undercurrent of tension that makes you want to tap your feet. It's the sort of music you'd play during a movie when the protagonists walk somewhere in a slow-motion take.

"Keep Your Hands Off Her" is the best track off the entire album, though "Meet Me In The City" is a close second. It starts up with a low, warm fuzziness, a few small confident notes, and then the melody picks up; the drums are right behind, so slick you almost don't notice. That warm tone pervades the whole album. It'd be enough to just call it a product of the distortion and choice of instrument, but the more I hear it, the more I'm convinced it's also the love of the material.

The Black Keys have enough variation under their belt that it's hard to say which of their albums I favor the most. And yet, I always come back to Chulahoma. There's something about their languid style, Junior's minimalist lyrics, and Dan Auerbach's wailing that makes this a powerful album. While it's a definite departure from their more conventional sound, it's damn good - regardless of which side of the musical spectrum you're approaching from.

    Track List:
  1. "Keep Your Hands Off Her"
  2. "Have Mercy on Me"
  3. "Work Me"
  4. "Meet Me in the City"
  5. "Nobody But You"
  6. "My Mind is Ramblin'" (reprise)
  7. "Junior's Widow"

That really is Junior's widow on the last track.

The Black Keys - Chulahoma: The Music of Junior Kimbrough (2006, Fat Possum Records)

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