Anyone who bothered to watch PBS's recent series on the blues couldn't help but come to the unhappy conclusion that a once-vital musical style had been strangled by its overweening fans. The series' directors showed their devotion by preserving the old stuff in pristine curatorial amber, holding it up for appreciation in the way one might view an artifact of a once-mighty ancient culture. Long live the blues; in other words, the blues is dead.
Equally glaring, to watchers of that televised blues museum, was the fact that currently, most of those fans are white. Well, so are the young bands that have most creatively revived the sound for their own snaggle-rock purpose: the White Stripes (natch), the Greenhornes, the Gossip, and most devotional of all, Akron's the Black Keys. Listening to the duo's second album, Thickfreakness, you'd never guess that singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and skinman-producer Patrick Carney aren't direct descendants of their stylistic forebears, so much do waters both Muddy and Mississippi seem to run through their veins. It's retrograde, for sure, but particularly at their live shows, the Black Keys pound out their swampy tunes with so much savor, conviction, and sheer diabolical energy, you can't help but walk away feeling as if the blues have never been more alive. Usher in the new year with one of Ohio's finest.