White boys have had the blues for a long time now, too. Elvis, the Rolling Stones and the White Stripes have made far more money by imitating the wails of dirt-poor Mississippi sharecroppers than the hard-scrabble, fistfighting black men who created this uniquely American genre of music ever did. Though all of these acts borrowed from, rather than copied, the blues and put their own unique spin on its bare-bones, primitive origins, there's no reason these artists should have sold a zillion more records than the genuine article. No musical form has been more pillaged by white musicians -- or with such overwhelming success. And, of course, very few have gotten it right.
Now come the Black Keys, a couple of white dudes who truly sound like they were born in a Yazoo City shack and then spent fifty years playing neighborhood juke joints -- even though they hail from Akron, Ohio, and are in their early twenties. A fanatic of the genre, singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach drove down to Mississippi on several occasions and struck up a friendship with fellow Fat Possum artist T-Model Ford, who plays the sort of bleak, been-dragged-through-the-shit blues that Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney aspire to re-create.
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Though sixty years of hard luck isn't something youngsters can conjure up, everything on Thickfreakness, the Black Keys' second album, is perfect. A superb, confident guitarist, Auerbach fires off licks that are swift and sleek, while Carney levels out the band's sound with his bouncy, propulsive rhythms. In "Set Me Free," they've come up with a blues anthem that makes you want to dance, drink and perhaps land on your face. Sporting a tinge of punk in its bar chords, "Dark Row" has just enough blues to make it an item of rare beauty. These two have an overabundance of talent as natural as salt in the earth.