Dan Auerbach – Keep It Hid (2009)

Keep It Hid is the debut solo album by Black Keys singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach, and is also so far his only non-collaborative solo album. Released in early 2009, the year before Brothers would catapult the Black Keys well in truly into the global music spotlight, Keep It Hid is an interesting album in that it is quite a diverse and varied album musically and is by no means a complete carbon copy of Black Keys material. This album rather than being a full on blues rock album contains a mixture of styles, with Auerbach moving between delta blues, garage rock, blues rock and even. This mixture of styles across the different tracks gives the album a nice balance and allows Auerbach to showcase other sides to his musical pallet, with the results speaking volumes.

Opening track “Trouble Weighs a Ton” is a rootsy pastoral folk tune of which when I first heard it I thought I was listening to a Mumford and Sons album. I certainly wasn’t expecting a Dan Auerbach solo album to start with a soft folk tune, but I was pleasantly surprised that it did. “I Want Some More” has an early-Black Keys feel to it with its swampy rhythm and dirty blues sound, while tracks such as “The Prowl”, “Keep It Hid” and “Street Walkin’” continues this theme with heavily distorted guitars and a blues rock template . “My Last Mistake” is one of Auerbach’s most poppy songs out of all his repertoire including his work with the Black Keys, and his also one of his best. Written in a similar vain to the tracks on Keys album El Camino, this is blues pop at its very best in the form of a driving backing track of guitar, bass and drums, as well as a very catchy melody which bounces along at you as you listen. The heavier blues tracks on this album are separated out nicely by some softer tracks where Auerbach shows off his tender side more so than he ever has done on any Black Keys album for mine. “Real Desire” is a beautiful soulful blues ballad laced with organ and very delicate guitar playing, while “When The Night Comes” is just Auerbach playing acoustic guitar and singing accompanied by a synth backing track. Album closer “Goin Home” probably gets the award for the softest track on the album and would also be in contention for the most beautiful, with Auerbach’s delightful finger picking and heartfelt vocal delivery floating along together in tandem in what is a gorgeous end to the album. What this album shows if anything is that this man can write softer soulful tracks just as good as he writes hard out blues rock epics, whilst singing them as equally as good.

A standard out feature for me on Keep It Hid was the overall production of the record, a task that Auerbach took on himself. Not only is Auerbach a wonderfully talented musician, but he is also a very good producer and it shows on this record where he pays careful attention to the needs of each track in attempting to get the right feel for each individual song, rather than an overall feel for the album. This comes across in the music, of which I noticed when listening is by in large less full on and fierce than the albums of his other band. The blues-oriented songs have a roughness about them and it is on these tracks where Auerbach uses distortion of the guitar and on occasion the vocals, while the folk and soul tracks have a beautiful simplicity to them with minimal production apart from the odd bit of echo. Overall I would give full marks to Auerbach for the production on this record in creating a sound and feel that I would describe as being quite organic in nature and very well suited to the eclectic mix of sound and style on display.

In conclusion then, I would say that Keep It Hid was an excellent debut for the Black Keys front man who showed with this release how he isn’t just a one dimensional blues rocker. Auerbach does a fantastic job in showing off his full range of musical abilities both as a songwriter and a player on multiple instruments on this album, while also giving a glimpse of his softer side as a song-writer, in particular showing how he can write tranquil folk songs as well as down to earth soulful blues. Keep It Hid is well worth a listen if you are into the Black Keys, especially their earlier work, and want to find out what Auerbach sounds like on his own. I thoroughly recommend this album, and I am sure you will be just as pleasantly surprised at the quality of the material as I was.   

A-

– Sam

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