- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2009

Rock ‘n’ roll fans traditionally know Dan Auerbach as the frontman of the Black Keys, a bluesy duo distinguished by pummeling percussion and raw, blistering guitar work.

Like the White Stripes — another Midwestern twosome with a penchant for the blues — the Black Keys both revere and reinterpret the genre, pairing traditional elements with unexpected melodies and textures.

The Black Keys adhere to a busy schedule, having released five studio albums in the past seven years. Nevertheless, Mr. Auerbach recently found time to return to the recording studio without drummer Patrick Carney, his enduring band mate since 2001.

Drawing upon his blues background while embracing new elements of folk, country and bluegrass, Mr. Auerbach created his first solo album, “Keep It Hid.”

“It wasn’t easy,” admits the songwriter, who recorded the album between tour dates with the Black Keys. “This is what I love to do, though. If it had been a real job - something that I wasn’t into — then it probably would have been really difficult. But I will always find an excuse to make music.”

“Keep It Hid” is a diverse record, often reminiscent of the Black Keys’ primitive wallop but also indicative of Mr. Auerbach’s love for rustic mountain music. “Trouble Weighs a Ton” was inspired by old field recordings, while “Goin’ Home” concludes the album with chiming acoustic guitars and a folksy midtempo gait. Another standout track, the neo-lullaby “When the Night Comes,” pairs swirling organs with the singer’s most tender melodies to date.

“We weren’t really trying to cop any particular sound,” Mr. Auerbach explains. “We were just trying to convey that feeling of old records that always sounded more live in the studio. We weren’t necessarily trying to sound like them; we just wanted to get that feeling.”

Fans of Mr. Auerbach’s older material should rest assured that “Keep It Hid” does not signal the end of the Black Keys, who plan to record a new album later this year.

“I’ve always been recording and accumulating songs,” Mr. Auerbach explains, “and these songs were always their own thing. ‘Goin’ Home’ and ‘Whispered Words’ aren’t Black Keys material, you know? That’s obvious. And with songs like ‘Heartbroken’ — I’m sure Pat and I could have done something with that song, but it turned out so great the way we did it. I loved how the drums sounded, and I didn’t want to mess with it.”

Following a two-week cross-country tour, Mr. Auerbach and his backing band will travel through Australia and Western Europe in support of “Keep It Hid.” A pair of festival performances will conclude the tour in the spring, followed by the Black Keys’ immediate return to the studio. Mr. Auerbach laughs about the speedy pace.

“It’s busy, man. The dates we’ve scheduled in the States may be the only American shows we’re doing for this album. It’s a limited tour because my time is limited.

If you really want to see the shows, you should venture out over these two weeks. “The “Keep It Hid” tour kicks off tomorrow at the 9:30 Club. Doors open at 8 p.m., to the tune of $20.

Concert roundup

Company of Thieves — Company of Thieves hails from Chicago, where the female-fronted trio took root in 2006. Pairing an indie-rock foundation with sharp lyrics, including a tuneful homage to Oscar Wilde, the band’s sound draws parallels to groups such as Eisley and Denali. Company of Thieves will visit the Iota Club tomorrow evening to promote its debut album.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — Songwriter Jason Isbell launched a solo career in 2007, following his decision to end a six-year partnership with the Drive-By Truckers. He issued his debut album later that year, tempering his former band’s raucous sound with elements of melancholy country-soul. A sophomore record arrived earlier this month , featuring twangy tales of soldiers, childhood and small-town life. Backed by the 400 Unit, Mr. Isbell takes his earthy sound to the 9:30 Club on Sunday.

Lenka — Miniature pop symphonies decorate Lenka’s music, which pairs her breathy vocals with layers of strings, piano and horns. The bubbly Australian worked as a TV host before embracing music, and her self-titled debut bears the glossy influence of that televised background. Those looking for an animated, sugary interpretation of Regina Spektor’s music will find a friend in Lenka, who visits the 9:30 Club on Monday.

Dead Confederate — With a swampy mixof guitars and melodic angst, Dead Confederate finds a balance between grunge and psychedelic rock. The Georgia natives are on a national tour and will visit the Black Cat — an appropriate name for the group’s haunted music — on Wednesday.

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