Dan Auerbach, “Waiting on a Song”

Dan Auerbach
Waiting on a Song
EASY EYE SOUND/NONESUCH
6/10

As a member of a band that’s evolved from lo-fi garage rock sludge to polished arena rock, it would be easy for Dan Auerbach to comfortably forge ahead with a monster pop album that would firmly separate him as a mainstream solo entity.

Instead, the Black Keys frontman hunkered down in his new Nashville studio and culled a batch of songs that are removed from anything he’s done with Patrick Carney—and even his side project The Arcs. The tracks that encompass Waiting on a Song are familiarly retro, but not in the manner the singer/songwriter is known for.

On his first solo endeavor since 2009, it’s easy to see how Auerbach has grown. The songs here are more melodic and sun-soaked than anything he’s released in the past. Leaning on a brand of rock unfamiliar to fans more accustomed to those he turns out with his day job, the thirty-three-minute collection feels far too short for the snappy sonic exploration that’s undertaken.

Featuring a slew of local Nashville favorites like John Prine, Duane Eddy, Jerry Douglas, and more, Waiting on a Song is billed as an ode to the Ohio-born musician’s adopted hometown. That may have been the intention, but it could have just easily been written and planned out while relaxing on the beach in Malibu.

Throughout the album, Auerbach works a sound with a foundation in the formative California rock that didn’t quite make it to the big time. Think the period between the Sunset Strip boom and the Laurel Canyon retreat. There’s a certain honky-tonk vibe on tracks like “Livin’ in Sin” that summon Nashville, but Bakersfield quickly comes to mind, too.

The slightly twangy title track has an off-the-PCH vibe, while others like the Traveling Wilburys–esque “Shine on Me” could have easily been written in Jeff Lynne’s living room. The hazy lead single “King of a One Horse Town” is drenched in psychedelic soul.

The Black Keys have been on the shelf for a while now after years of touring. Between Patrick Carney’s work on Michelle Branch’s new album and Auerbach’s assortment of activities, the duo seem happily occupied. Waiting on a Song is the manifestation of the singer not only palling around with the right guys, but showcasing his strengths as a songwriter without the pressures of hit-making.

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