If 2004’s Rubber Factory left any doubt that the Black Keys were far more than just two white guys from Akron, Chulahoma puts those doubts to rest. The six-track EP, a love letter to the late Junior Kimbrough of Hudsonville, Mississippi, establishes the blues rock duo as supreme lovers of the genre. In exploring his past and keeping the songs in the character of the blues, the Keys distance themselves from the White Stripes’ methods of glorifying a genre. Similarities exist, sure, but where Jack and Meg strip down production and try to get “in” the experience, Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney seem to love it more, playing with a passion and a genuine desire to capture the essence of a music that is as far removed from their hometown as possible.
Chulahoma is more a blues record than a blues rock one, with Auerbach crooning and handling his guitar with precision, holding on to every note as if it were his last. The opening of “My Mind Is Ramblin’” is almost taunting and seductive with its slow, brooding guitar work. What’s alarming, though, is when Auerbach’s voice transforms from his usual raucous timbre to a deeply Southern-infused bass. On “Meet Me In The City” it’s almost impossible to tell him apart from someone who’s been performing this sort of music for years. It’s not Carney’s fault, though, that his drum playing ultimately takes a backseat to the guitar and vocals; his usual wild style would be inappropriate here, but the album misses it just a tad. A bonus track featuring Kimbrough’s wife urging the boys on is superfluous—anyone listening to the preceding six tracks would say the exact same.