By Leah Greenblatt
May 14, 2021 at 12:51 PM EDT
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The Black Keys Delta Kream album cover

From the blues they came, and — one decade-long detour through the closest thing this millennium still has to mainstream rock stardom later — to the blues they have returned. Formed 20 years ago in Akron, Ohio, by lone members Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, the Black Keys came up in the same scene that nurtured the raw power of rust-belt revivalists like the White Stripes and their early-aughts counterparts: a purposefully primordial sound brought up from grimy basements and garages to the pinnacle of pop culture.

For the Keys that breakthrough came on 2010's Brothers, an album that synthesized their two-man groove into something bigger and almost pathologically melodic via radio hits like "Tighten Up" and "Howlin' for You." Several records in a similar vein followed, with all the rarefied privileges that success entails: Grammys (they have four), winky sitcom cameos, headlining festival gigs. Then came the side projects and producing jobs and, by 2015, a hard-earned hiatus.

So it's not entirely surprising that the duo have chosen to head back to the source on Delta Kream. A tribute to the roots and blues music they were raised on, featuring some of its most formative living players. The John Lee Hooker-penned "Crawling Kingsnake" slithers in on low-slung percussion and sexual longing; R.L. Burnside's "Going Down South" sways with falsetto portent and choogling organ; "Do the Romp" does just that, stompingly.

Kream (the title refers to the classic William Eggleston photograph that also graces the album's cover) was recorded in a mere 10 hours, and it often feels less like a distinct set of songs than a deliberate mood: a slow-rolling swagger through a bygone era, gilded by the band's own faithful imitations. That's bad news for hook-happy fans, maybe, but a living history lesson too. B

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