Perhaps just as much as The Black Keys were hailed for their raw blues authenticity when they rose in the ‘return of rock’ near the start of this century/millennium, they’ve also been derided for since shifting to a more polished sound better suited for the stadiums that they play now. So, the announcement of an album of hill country blues covers seemed both like a ‘return to the old days’ and maybe a way to do that without jeopardizing said stadium status. Delta Kream does the style right, but is also just a covers record.
Hill country blues differentiates from the blues of the delta or Chicago by eschewing big guitar solos or the like for rhythm and extended grooves, veering almost on modern jam band. The pieces on Kream do largely go on a bit, but also have a certain hypnotic power. That said, the best are mostly those that are shorter, with other feeling more for older blues aficionados (like The Black Keys themselves). R.L. Burnside’s “Poor Boy a Long Way From Home” does sound rather like The Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy”, but that’s more about “Lonely” than “Poor”, and is probably the best showcase of the style that The Keys do on the record, though there is also the great bump-and-grind in Junior Kimbrough’s “Do the Romp”, which doesn’t wear out its welcome. Burnside and Kimbrough get multiple covers on the album, while Mississippi Fred McDowell, probably the most famous hill country blues performer, gets only one, in the admittedly strong “Louise”, which does veer towards the more accessible delta style.
Doing a covers record of old blues kind of lets The Black Keys have it both ways, both revive their earlier style that critics say they miss, while also not alienating the wider fanbase of their more recent, more refined approach. It was all recorded in about ten hours, and no one expects them to tour behind it (particularly these days). But that has given some people what they want, if they want it.