Ending your band’s debut album with a 23-minute hidden track is a bold move, but then again, The Black Keys have always been pretty bold in their bluegrass/garage rock. Years before they were selling out tours throughout the country, Akron, Ohio natives Dan Auerbach (guitar/vocals) and Patrick Carney (drums) were jamming in their basement, penning tracks that would soon become their first DIY full-length, The Big Come Up (2002). Auerbach and Carney had sent a demo to several record companies, eventually securing the support of Alive, an indie label in California that didn’t even require the duo to perform for them.

The boys’ DIY roots extend to their sound. The songs on this album are much more raw than the polished versions of the duo’s latest albums, but that lends the early tracks something special and nostalgic. Although it consists of only a few original songs written by the bandmates (who began their friendship in middle school), those original songs exude a unique roughness that is rarely found anymore. They rock their guitars and drums, but they take their time as they make their way through each track.

However, the covers themselves shouldn’t be taken for granted, as they so perfectly convey the band’s style. Their take on The Beatles’ “She Said, She Said” turns the light, airy feel of the original and adds heavier rock, turning up the guitars and thus incorporating another layer of passion to the track. On “Leavin’ Trunk,” Auerbach and Carney flair up the blues standard with their own interpretation.

The part original composition, part cover album didn’t initially gain the pair many followers outside of Ohio, but it did manage to attract the attention of Fat Possum Records, which produced several of their subsequent albums. The garage rock band had something different to offer in the early millennium, and eventually people took notice. Their single, “I’ll Be Your Man,” one of the best from the album, later received much recognition, including use as the theme song for HBO’s “Hung.”

Throughout several albums after The Big Come Up, The Black Keys refined their style and slowly weaned themselves off of covers, to produce fresh music of their own. While they’ve released chart-topping albums since their beginning, their roots of blues rock will always be a part of their sound and image. The Big Come Up not only started it all, but also influenced it all.

Listen to “I’ll be your man”, here, via Youtube:

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