Album reviews: The Black Keys – Delta Kream, and Sons of Kemet – Black to the Future

The Black Keys celebrate their heroes on their brilliant 10th album, while Sons of Kemet cement their standing as one of the UK’s most exciting and versatile acts

<p>The Black Keys: Dan Auerbach (left) and Patrick Carney</p>

The Black Keys: Dan Auerbach (left) and Patrick Carney

The Black Keys – Delta Kream

★★★★☆

The blues flow through The Black Keys’ music as steady as the Mississippi River. Now they’re going right to the source on Delta Kream, a sweltering collection of some of their favourite hill country blues standards.

This is far from the first time Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have paid tribute to their heroes. Their excellent 2006 EP, Chulahoma: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough, included a letter from Auerbach detailing how the bluesman inspired him to drop out of college in order to pursue music. The fact they’re exploring such familiar territory is to the album’s benefit. The Black Keys know this music as well as their own.

Recorded in just two afternoons with no rehearsals, Delta Kream celebrates true musicianship. There’s no polish here – these songs are muscular, grime-covered beasts squelching through the mud of history. The duo’s take on Robert Lee Burnside’s “Poor Boy a Long Way From Home” chuffs along on choppy rhythms and fiery licks of slide guitar from veteran Kenny Brown (affectionally known to the late Burnside as his “white son”). “Sad Days, Lonely Nights” emulates the grit of Kimbrough's original live recording; Auerbach slurs and hollers out each phrase as though he’s slumped at the end of the bar, 10 whiskies deep.

He sounds hypnotised by the groove on “Crawling Kingsnake”, which slithers over Carney’s hisses of percussion. And there’s something voyeuristic about his throaty croon on “Stay All Night”, like he’s watching you from behind dark glasses. Delta Kream is a soundtrack for those hot and heady nights of late summer. It’s brilliant. ROC

Sons of Kemet – Black to the Future

★★★★☆

Sons of Kemet are uninterested in subtlety. The political urgency of their music is immediately evident – which isn’t to say that it’s surface level. The “jazz” outfit have built a reputation for producing malleable, multilayered music that rewards repeat listens. With their fourth record Black to the Future, the London four-piece further cement their standing as one of the UK’s most genuinely exciting acts.

There are notes of jazz here – the genre that Sons of Kemet have been squished into by critics – but true to their experimental identity, Black to the Future gracefully slides between soca, calypso, jungle and Afrofuturism. Bandleader Shabaka Hutchings told The Independent that it’s a “sonic poem” – a sufficiently sprawling and academic descriptor for an album that was partly inspired by the works of Angela Davis and Stokely Carmichael.

Sons of Kemet’s provocatively titled 2018 album Your Queen is a Reptile earned them their first Mercury Prize nomination, bringing with it busier gigs and bigger venues. Black to the Future ensures their new fans stick around for the long run. It’s a versatile record that stretches between spoken word, on “Field Negus”, to danceable tracks such as “Hustle” and the grime-inflected “For the Culture”. Never once do Sons of Kemet compromise on their fiercely individual sound. AN

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