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The Black Keys | Chulahoma | review | rock | Lollipop

The Black Keys

Chulahoma (Fat Possum)
by Brian Varney

Intended perhaps as a companion piece to Fat Possum's excellent Junior Kimbrough tribute Sunday Nights (upon which The Black Keys made an appearance), Chulahoma is the band's own personal Kimbrough tribute, a six-song EP that closes out the band's tenure with Kimbrough's one-time home Fat Possum (the band's next full-length, Magic Potion, is their first for new label, Nonesuch) in a heartfelt, if not entirely artistically successful, fashion.

The difficulty when attempting to cover the songs of a singular talent like Junior Kimbrough is that, in order to have any kind of success, one must not treat the songs like the unique, unassailable treasures that they are. This is very difficult to do when you love the songs as much as the Black Keys obviously do, but this sort of thinking causes bands to not take chances. If you look at Sunday Nights, the bands responsible for the best tracks ignored the original Kimbrough recordings and used only the raw materials to rebuild the tracks anew. A good example is the song "Have Mercy on Me," which appears on both Sunday Nights and Chulahoma. On Sunday Nights, Outrageous Cherry swathed the song in sitar and psychedelic effects, while on Chulahoma, the Black Keys keep their version pretty close to the tempo and feel of Kimbrough's original. It's reverent, and perhaps it speaks to a greater love of Kimbrough's work, but it also begs the question: Why not just listen to the original?

Maybe I'm not Chulahoma's target audience. Maybe it's meant as a gateway for neophytes to the wonders of Kimbrough's original work. Regardless, this is not a release that I'm likely to revisit when I reach for a Black Keys disc, which happens pretty frequently. I'll wait for Magic Potion instead.


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