BLACK KEYS “Turn Blue” Grade: A
Right off the bat, the Black Keys calm any fears about the mainstream success of 2011’s Grammy-winning “El Camino” album and breakthrough hit “Lonely Boy” going to their heads.
Their eighth album, “Turn Blue” (Nonesuch) opens with the seven-minute, guitar-solo-heavy epic “Weight of Love” that shows how far singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney have come since their days as a duo who made all their blues-rock sounds themselves. The impressive “Weight of Love,” along with the grand, Eric Clapton-esque solos of “In Our Prime,” also show, however, that the Black Keys will never really stray far from their Akron, Ohio, indie-rock-and-blues roots.
The inclusion of Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) into the band’s inner triangle, as “Turn Blue” producer and co-writer, doesn’t change its mission, only enhances it. While “Turn Blue” spans a variety of styles — from the loping, ’60s soul groove of “In Time” to the frantic, organ-driven dance party of lead single “Fever” to the power-pop closer “Gonna Get Away” — they grow more from Auerbach and Carney than Burton and his numerous projects like Broken Bells and Gnarls Barkley.
The most impressive part of “Turn Blue” is how the Black Keys have managed to expand their palette and artistic vision without losing their focus. Everything here is tight and hard-hitting, still built on the solid bond between Auerbach’s distinctive bluesy vocals and rock guitar and Carney’s inventive, dynamic drumming. Once again, “Turn Blue” finds the Black Keys at the top of their game — a game that just keeps getting bigger and bigger.
JOSEPH ARTHUR “Lou” Grade: A
Joseph Arthur does the near-impossible on “Lou” (Vanguard). He brilliantly summarizes the career of his friend, the late Lou Reed, not by using the usual music industry criteria, but emotional ones. With only acoustic guitars and piano to support him, Arthur captures Reed’s grit and innocence, his unflinching storytelling and earnest dreaming throughout his career in classics like “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Heroin” and lesser-known gems like “Magic and Loss” and “Coney Island Baby.” The stripped-back arrangements let Reed’s lyrics speak for themselves. But Arthur’s voice, especially when he creates a chorus of his own harmonies, serves as a knowing guide in this celebration.
Usher’s timing is totally off on his new single “Good Kisser” (RCA). Not only does he put out a new retro-soul single at the same time as the new Michael Jackson single, but he does it in such a laid-back way that you wonder if he’s deliberately trying to dodge his pal Pharrell’s current moment. “Good Kisser” is a little too slick and a little too studied in its delivery, as he worries about lipstick on his leg and how “don’t nobody kiss it like you bang bang bang.” Whatever that means.
ALSO NEW IN STORES
Michael Jackson’s “Xscape” (Epic)
Rascal Flatts’ “Rewind” (Big Machine)
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s “Days of Abandon” (Sebo)
Tori Amos’ “Unrepentant Geraldines” (Mercury Classics)
Michael W. Smith’s “Sovereign” (Sparrow)