“You got a love that’s a real long shot,” sings Dan Auerbach on “It Ain’t Over,” the loping, funky second single from Dropout Boogie. Dude might as well be singing about himself.
In a moment when rock music barely exists in the pop conversation it once dominated, there is no logical reason that Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney, two blues fans from Akron, Ohio, with a fondness for first takes, should have made it to the beginning of the Obama administration, let alone 21 years. But here they are, 11 albums and a mess of Grammys later, playing college basketball arenas like it’s 1973.
After a few records of palette expansion, their 2021 album, Delta Kream, was a collection of Hill Country blues covers, a tribute to the music that got the Black Keys stomping in the first place. The svelte, 34-minute Dropout Boogie — which comes out the day before the 20th anniversary of their first album — keeps things similarly crunchy.
To that end, they’ve looped in sympatico collaborators, including Memphis garage-rock savant Greg Cartwright, frequent Kings of Leon producer Angelo Petraglia, and ZZ Top’s almighty Billy Gibbons. They’ve spent whole albums collaborating with Danger Mouse, and both Keys have worked on other people’s R&B and roots albums, so the choogle and soul of “For the Love of Money” feels as natural as a broken-in jean jacket.
But it’s tough to imagine the early Black Keys without Cartwright’s outfits, such as Nineties legends Oblivions and Reigning Sound, bands that hardcore Keys fans need to hear today. Cartwright and Petraglia throw down on the swaggering first single and lead-off track, “Wild Child.” (Talk about a classic-rock move!) And since Gibbons’ band is a root integer of any blues-trio thunder that comes after, it’s only fitting that he delivers a perfectly Top-tastic solo on “Good Love.”
The collaborations are uniformly excellent, but it’s on duo workouts like “Burn the Damn Thing Down,” “Your Team Is Looking Good,” and slowish jam “How Long” where Dropout Boogie sounds like gloriously old-school Keys and exemplifies their career-long vibe. Their rock & roll minimalism is more than enough.