Album Review: The Black Keys’ Cover Album Chulahoma

Mel Brooks once said a good parody should be able to artistically support itself, even if the person has never experienced the idea it is referencing. While Brooks’ ideology mostly applies to satirical comedy works, it just so happens that his statement could also apply to music as well. This includes The Black Keys cover album released in 2006, Chulahoma: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough. The album, as you may have already guessed, covered the works of legendary blues songwriter and instrumentalist David ‘Junior’ Kimbrough. Chulahoma is compiled of seven tracks. Six of these are of course songs, but the last track contains something special… It is a voicemail left from Kimbrough’s widowed wife, who praised the Keys for their tribute to her late husband.

Within the first few seconds of the opening track you can instantly grasp how the rest of the album is going to feel. That is, a slow, groove or sway-ey feeling, Deep Blues compilation. The Keys are famously known for having helped cultivate the modern blues-rock scene, but they never did something quite like this. Compared their other works, Chulahoma stylistically feels simpler… And, it works! There are no group chants, whistling tunes, or things like that in this album. In Chulahoma, the duo is simply singing to, and jamming-out on pentatonic scales, while paying tribute to one of their musical inspirations. This simplicity is partially what makes Chulahoma sound so great. While there is nothing wrong with elements like chanting or whistling in blues music, which to the degree the Keys do is quite often, these elements would have felt overbearing and cumbersome if applied to the likes Kimbrough’s work.

Despite the overall simplicity of the album, there are more than enough guitar playing elements within the compilation that makes the curation musically versatile. For instance, just about every song is played in a duel picking fashion, and more so, songs in likes of“Meet Me In The City’ and “Nobody But You” are loaded with guitar hammer-ons, pull-offs, and vibratos. Combine these elements with the numerous intertwined guitar solos that superimpose over most the main riffs of the songs, and include some distinguishable vocals, you have yourself quite a musical collection. Perhaps that is the other reason why Chulahoma so great. The Keys closely followed Kimbrough’s style, where the guitar says more than the vocalist.

As far as the Keys go, Chulahoma is by far one of their most unique and underappreciated works, and it will slide into your hearts just a Kimbrough slid into the Keys’. On that note, if you like Chulahoma, be sure pay some respect to the legend who inspired the tribute album, and check out some of Junior’s works.

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