In Review: The Black Keys - 'Crawling Kingsnake'

In a 21st century tribute to their influences, the blues duo have electrified the track made famous by John Lee Hooker, without sacrificing any of the power of its raw simplicity.
Posted: 28 April 2021 Words: Caspar Latham

The Black Keys have returned in full force, channelling their roots in the first arrival from their upcoming blues covers album Delta Kream. 'Crawling King Snake' comprises six minutes of driving blues riffs, vocals, and slide guitar. The name of the track signals their placement within a long tradition, hearkening back to blues legend Big Joe Williams’ original 1941 recording. The song was made famous by John Lee Hooker’s 1948 version, a sparse collection of sounds comprising steady tapping, minimal guitar and hypnotic vocals. However, it was only through Junior Kimbrough’s later 1994 version that singer-guitarist of the Black Keys, Dan Auerbach, made his discovery. The band’s 21st century tribute to their influences has electrified the track without sacrificing any of the power of its raw simplicity. 

This opening track promises great things from an album that was recorded in 10 hours, over two afternoons, at the end of a tour. The tracklist of the album, due to be released on 14th May 2021, reads like a roll call of their influences, including other covers of Mississippi blues hill acts such as Hooker, R.L Burnside, and Ranie Burnette. After the major commercial success of their 2010 album Brothers, older fans will be pleased to hear a return to a rougher, earthy sound more akin to Rubber Factory (2004) and Magic Potion (2006). 

The Black Keys are a band that have never disappointed since I was handed my first CD purchase aged 10, after asking in a (now closed down) record store for something that ‘sounds like the Rolling Stones’. The album’s name derived from the band’s makeshift studio. Evicted from their drummer’s basement after the landlord sold the building, The Black Keys had been forced to record in a dilapidated factory built to manufacture rubber tyres, a building with ‘horrible acoustics’ that Auerbach described as ‘hell’. Their latest creation channels that early ramshackle style: “I’m singing lyrics that are like third-generation wrong lyrics…a certain version that Junior recorded where maybe he messed up a line, but that’s the only one I know. So we were really just kind of flying by the seat of our pants”.

Delta Kream is out on 14th May via Nonesuch Records.

More from buzz