Amidst the patch of pandemic music releases are a laundry list of emotive and self-reflective projects. Charli XCX’s how i’m feeling now was one of the first to show off quarantine’s obvious effects on artists. And since, the industry has been unloading other albums just like it. But one thing we’ve learned by now is quarantine effects everyone individually, and differently. Not all pandemic projects will reflect this melancholy isolation that many feel. And for the Black Keys, that’s clearly the case. Rather than wallow, Auerbach and Carney indulge themselves in their Mississippi roots with a load of classic covers.
Relatively unplanned and completely unrehearsed, the Black Keys got together to record Delta Kream across two afternoons, in just ten hours. The record is a true jam session of old blues tunes the group members both knew (and in some instances, already recorded together). Unlike many cover albums, though, the group does little to shift the original sound. Aside from the unbelievably deep bass playing and occasional improvisational solos, the album is traditional Mississippi blues with some (rare) Black Keys vocals that have been Mississippified.
Because of this, most of the enjoyment comes from the unique and intricate guitar passages within each track. The layered, rugged, and funky “Crawling Kingsnake” opens the album to great effect, initializing these tantalizing licks that later continue on the solo-heavy “Poor Boy a Long Way From Home.” High-powered moments like this and “Coal Black Mattie” highlight the band’s identity best, as they’re able to meld their cloudy, cluttered garage rock with the classic Mississippi sound.
Problems arise on the slow-strolling and repetitive tracks, “Louise” and “Walk With Me.” Their over-reliance on singular guitar riffs forces the band into a corner, one without much instrumental and melodic flexibility. There’s nothing wrong with a genuine cover, like many of these are, but when you have literally nothing to offer, you risk being a copycat, rather than someone paying homage or making improvements. “Walk With Me” does finish with some electric flair, but the extra decoration could’ve been useful five minutes earlier.
Delta Kream‘s successes and failures are both a result of its one dimension. If you love real, early, Mississippi blues, or want a peeled-back curtain into the influences of Auerbach and Carney, you’ll love this record. But it offers fans of the Black Keys’ recent sound(s) very little. The masterfully-crafted Mississippi blues of Delta Kream is double-edged sword—perfect for the group and its super-fans, but worthless for most other people.