Release Date: Jun 2, 2017
Record label: Nonesuch
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
When Dan Auerbach released his debut solo album Keep It Hid in 2009, the Black Keys were on the verge of superstardom; so his solo album was a busman's holiday, not the start of a career. Waiting on a Song, its 2017 sequel, arrives in the midst of an extended hiatus from the Black Keys, who took a breather after a run of blockbusters that coincided with Auerbach establishing himself as a producer of note. On these extracurricular projects, Auerbach broadened his sonic palette, working with everybody from Americana stalwart Ray LaMontagne to post-modern noir diva Lana Del Rey, and he brings this new bag of tricks to Waiting on a Song.
Dan Auerbach seems unusually giddy on his second solo album. Of course any artist in his position--one-half of a marquee band, known as one of today's producers of choice and a nine-time GRAMMY winner to boot--ought to have reason for celebration regardless. Yet the celebratory stance Auerbach shares on Waiting On A Song is a sound so uncommonly upbeat and effusive it has to do with much more.
T here's something slightly disingenuous about the lyrics to the title track of the Black Key's second solo album. Against gloriously sunny 60s pop, Auerbach cheerfully complains of his writer's block, which is all a bit rich coming from one so clearly blessed with a gift for winning melodies. Musically, however, it sets the scene for an album recorded with the cream of the local music scene from his adopted hometown of Nashville.
Recorded at Dan Auerbach's private Easy Eye Studio in Nashville, the Black Keys frontman's Waiting on a Song is, first and foremost, a piece of studio art, and a far cry from the grimy basement recordings that constituted his band's first few albums. Despite its at times florid arrangements, including orchestral-sized strings and horns, Auerbach's second solo album retains an analog, live-in-the-studio feel. The sonic palette is pure late 1960s/early '70s, with its array of warm acoustic guitars, luxurious strings, velvety bass, and Auerbach's impossibly smooth croon creating a cozy, enveloping environment.
Dan Auerbach channels his newfound Nashville residency into a joyously organic album that's got soul from start to finish. Eight years after his debut solo album, Keep It Hid, Auerbach's latest feels like a summation of his career to date -- the wide instrumental palette of the Arcs, the old school vibes of early Black Keys tunes and the pop sensibilities of their most recent work. Waiting on a Song stays keeps an upbeat demeanour across its 10 tracks, but the instantly catchy choruses are where it really shines.
You've got to hand it to Dan Auerbach. He's one of a seemingly ever-increasing group of genius musicians that appear to be able to turn their hand to just about anything. Not content with his pivotal role as part of outstandingly successful blues-rock duo The Black Keys, he's already released a solo album with 2009's Keep It Hid, had moderate success with The Arcs and carried out untold production duties for a list of artists as long as your arm (unless you're Mr Tickle), including Ray LaMontagne, Lana Del Rey and The Pretenders.
Since the Black Keys' dropped their latest record, 2014's Turn Blue, Dan Auerbach has been busy. In addition to a world tour the Keys' took into early 2015, he followed that #1 album with a side project in the Arcs' Yours, Dreamily. Also, he has steadily worked as a producer and collaborator on a number of projects: Lana Del Rey's Ultraviolence, Nikki Lane's All or Nothin, Cage the Elephant's Tell Me I'm Pretty, and most recently with Chrissie Hynde on the Pretenders' return Alone in 2016.
No one wants to be pegged as a carpetbagger, so it was but a matter of time 'til multi-tasking Dan Auerbach made his Nashville LP, having based his Easy Eye Studio there. He's taken the right tack, tapping great talent to grow his retro style without just playing dress-up, creating a Seventies country-soul-rock palette part Lee Hazelwood, part Jim Ford, plus spare parts. The title track is a zen-like meditation on craft co-written with master John Prine; "Cherry Bomb" boasts Duane Eddy's signature twang; "Undertow" conjures the Spinners with Philly soul strings and a "Games People Play" quote, while "Stand By My Girl" mirrors the piano riff off Fatboy Slim's "Praise You." It's a "Nashville Sound" the town could use more of.
On the opening title track of his new solo album, Dan Auerbach sings a song about wanting to write a song--before invoking the age-old myth that it's often best to just stop trying and let the tune find you. "Songs don't grow on trees/You gotta pick 'em out of the breeze," he sings on "Waiting on a Song," a twinkly hit of countrified pop that, as the album cover suggests, sounds very much like it came wafting in as Auerbach reclined on a pile of leaves. But the end result is ultimately a testament to the great paradox of songwriting: it takes a lot of heavy lifting to make something that sounds so effortless.
Blues obsession notwithstanding, Dan Auerbach has always been a pop songwriter. For every Skip James trick featured in the Black Keys songbook, there have been five more courtesy of Roy Orbison or Ray Davies (see: the cover of The Kinks' "Act Nice and Gentle" on Rubber Factory). So it made sense-and was actually a damn good idea, in fact-for Auerbach to embrace the pop factor on Waiting on a Song, which is technically his second solo album (following the surprisingly durable Keep It Hid from 2009), but unlike anything he's made before.
Earlier this year, Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney gave an interview to Rolling Stone to talk about why the band are presently on what is pretty much the first holiday of their sixteen-year career. "Dan and I have worked our asses off, and I'd like to see him take a break. " Bad news for Patrick, then, comes in the shape of 'Waiting on a Song', the second solo album from his bandmate, and Dan Auerbach's first since 2009's 'Keep It Hid'.
Since starting The Black Keys with drummer Patrick Carney in 2001, Dan Auerbach has made a career out of making old sounds cool again. That’s not intended to damn with faint praise; by following the lead of fellow garage rock revivalists like The White Stripes and The Strokes, the Akron, OH, pair have done more to keep capital-R Rock and Roll relevant in the 21st century than most bands of their stature or inclinations and certainly with as much or more consistency than anyone not named Jack White. Still, though.
It's safe to say that nothing in Dan Auerbach's extensive career so far will prepare you for Waiting On A Song. Not his work fronting the bluesy, indie rocking Black Keys since 2002 or his swampy side project the Arcs, not his production for a diverse set of artists like Lana Del Ray or the Pretenders, and certainly not his previous solo album from nine years ago that mined a raw, ragged Keys groove. Nope, the ever restless and prolific singer/songwriter/guitarist's shift into mellow ’70s California pop seems to arrive from some other dimension, likely the Twilight Zone.