Former Replacements frontman, vocalist and songwriter Paul Westerberg has recounted how he would constantly try to record songs on his own in hopes to record a solo record. Those hopes were usually dashed by curious band members asking Westerberg what he was up to. Eventually the song would become a Replacements song. But if you're Akron-based singer, songwriter and guitarist Dan Auerbach, leader of the blues rock-heavy Black Keys, it's not as difficult squirrel things away for a solo project, since he only has one other band member, drummer Patrick Carney, to slip away from.
On his first solo project, Keep It Hid, Auerbach seems liberated to create songs from a wide swath of influences -- including country, folk, psychedelia and pop -- that don't quite fit into the typical Black Keys sound. Recorded at his newly built studio, Akron Analog, Auerbach still provides the loose, rough, distorted edges to his songs, especially on bluesy swamp rockers such as "I Want Some More" or "The Prowl." But absent Carney's dynamic and in some ways overwhelming drum sound, the songs on Keep It Hid are given more room to breathe, without the density that Carney brings to the Black Keys material.
The record is book-ended by two acoustic numbers. The opening cut, "Trouble Weighs a Ton," is a country-influenced song that would be ideal for Anti label mate and country legend Merle Haggard to cover. Auerbach ends Keep It Hid with "Goin' Home," a lonesome folk piece with Dylan-esque influences that could easily fall into the "Freak Folk" catalog of, say, Devendra Banhart or Vetiver. These songs are indicative of the welcoming surprises that occur on this recording.
"Because I Should" has a strangely Brill Building-like foundation. It's filled with intricate parts, both in the melody and chord structure, which tend more toward the aforementioned 1960s style of pop. Auerbach's execution disguises such pop influences with distorted, dirty fringes, which mark his distinction as a songwriter. "My Last Mistake" is the brightest song that Auerbach has ever offered, even down its Beatles-like minor chord ending. He's willing to parade all of his musical influences with such earnestness, one is inclined to even allow for the blatant Stooges' "1969" homage, "Street Walkin,' while bobbing the head, with a sly smile.
Also recorded and engineered by Auerbach, Keep It Hid displays his eclectic depth as a songwriter -- even after writing the bulk of five full-length records for the Black Keys. Joined by drummer Bob Cesare (who also assisted on the engineering), Jessica Lea Mayfield and Auerbach's uncle, James Quine (cousin to the late Lou Reed/Voidoid guitarist Robert Quine), Auerbach has released a personal recording that is impressive, engaging and surprising.