This is the fourth in a series of eight posts breaking down each of the Black Keys albums leading up to the release of Turn Blue on May 13.
This is not technically a full studio album from The Black Keys, but this album has had a big impact on me. The music is the bluesiest that The Black Keys get, but more than that, I love the album artwork. My love for the album design is evidenced by the background of this blog, this painting I have on my wall (done masterfully by my girlfriend Sami), and the fact that I bought the record before I even had a record player just so I could have the artwork. The design was done by Patrick Carney’s brother, Michael who has been their creative director since the beginning and is absolutely incredible at capturing the theme of an album visually.
The album is a tribute album the The Black Keys’ hero, Junior Kimbrough. They already covered his songs on The Big Come Up and Thickfreakness, but Chulahoma is where they really got their obsession fully out of their system. Chulahoma, Mississippi is the location of Junior’s Place, the juke joint owned by Kimbrough. Covering a hill country blues man, this album falls almost exclusively on the blues side of blues-rock. Where Rubber Factory leaned more punk, Chulahoma sticks strictly to the blues. Albeit, it is still a rocking album.
The guitars are fuzzier, and the vocals are louder, but The Black Key’s tried to stick pretty close to Kimbrough’s music. The rolling, droning guitar is ever present, allowing Auerbach to riff off of the bluesy theme of each tune. Strongest on this album are “Meet Me in the City”, “Nobody But You”, and “My Mind is Ramblin'”*.
Closing the album is an answering machine message from Junior Kimbrough’s widow**. In it, she says she has heard the record The Black Keys are working on and that she thinks they are doing a great job. She feels that they are capturing Kimbrough better than anyone else she has heard. The Black Keys have had a massive amount of success lately, including selling out Madison Square Garden and Grammy wins, but I imagine that hearing that message from the wife of their musical idol still ranks as one of their most treasured accomplishments.
Following Chulahoma, The Black Keys released Magic Potion, a good album in it’s own right, but the beginning of a slight decline in the quality of their records. Check back next week for my review where I explain exactly what I mean.
*The last of that list is where I got the name of this blog. I figured it was a good call back to one of my favorite songs and a good description of the random nature of this blog.
**Kimbrough claimed to have fathered 36 children….thirty-six.
I love this song. The way Auerbach explores the theme, starting with a clean guitar exactly like Kimbrough and ending in the raucous, cymbal crashing, reverb-heavy style of the early Black Keys records. It’s just perfect.