It’s hard to give Chulahoma, The Black Keys’ recent EP, three stars – the ultimate rating for a middle-of-the-road, could-have-been-great-but-just-didn’t-have-enough-of-something kind of album. But the Black Keys, hailing from subterranean Ohio, do have something. Just like certain Detroiters, they represent the extension of the electric blues from its roots in Chicago and Detroit into today’s music.

The Big Come Up, their 2002 debut album, boldly set the pace for a band reclaiming the foundations of blues. Their raunchy, lo-fi sound comes from a two-man team: vocalist and guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney. Eschewing the tradition of the bassist holding down the groove, Auerbach’s extremely tasteful guitar work couldn’t work better under his voice, which can range from crooning soul to overdriven hard rock.

Chulahoma, a six-song EP, is both a dedication and tribute to Junior Kimbrough, a blues heavyweight who passed away in 1998. You don’t need Auerbach’s explanation in the liner notes to hear why his music is important the group. The opening groove, “Keep Your Hands Off Her,” immediately makes an undeniable connection between the man and the band. The guitar riff full of reverb and rock-steady beat create the types of intoxicating textures that drive the blues. The Black Keys have taken Kimbrough’s tunes and, while keeping intact the feeling and the groove, added their own addictive spin. “Have Mercy On Me” and “Work Me,” the album’s second and third tracks, could have easily fit on 2003’s Thickfreakness, an album dripping with the sweat, dirt and humidity of classic blues rock.

The album’s strongest track by far, though, is “Meet Me In The City.” Heavenly tremolo-infused, the track is a country lullaby of a groove. It’s reminiscent of “Act Nice and Gentle,” from 2004’s “Rubber Factory,” but goes far and beyond the traditional groove. Auerbach’s starts with a gentle tone, but builds to the climactic chorus with a fury that stretches his voice to the breaking point. If this horrible, bug-ridden, humid summer needed a saving anthem, this would be it.

The six tracks are all solid statements, but each could be placed within the context of the group’s past albums. As a singular statement, Chulahoma certainly makes clear the group’s debt to Kimbrough, but aside from that, it doesn’t say anything new for the band. But there certainly is no loss of momentum. There is much to expect from these two Ohio boys – this latest release having barely whetted the palette.

Rating: Three out of five stars

The Black Keys
Fat Possum

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