For the record: New releases from Black Keys and Sturgill Simpson

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Black Keys, “Turn Blue,” (Nonesuch)  3stars

After a decade of steady audience-building, the Black Keys, a duo from Akron, Ohio, broke through big-time with 2011's hook-happy "El Camino," whose popularity also led to singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach building a resume (and earning a Grammy) as a highly in-demand producer.

So now they're sitting on top of the world, what do the blues-rockers and producer Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton do (besides bash Justin Bieber on Twitter, which seems to be drummer Patrick Carney's principal avocation)? Do their best to make an immersive rock record that consciously avoids the hit-single approach of songs like "Lonely Boy," which made them so popular in the first place, of course.

That's not a big problem on "Turn Blue" because, truth be told, the album does have its catchy moments, such as the addictive keyboard squiggle in "Fever" and the chooglin' John Fogerty rip "Gotta Get Away." But more important, Auerbach, Carney and Burton are now so self-assured in the craft of record-making that they can start off with a 7-minute slow-burner such as "Weight of Love," a Led Zep-meets-Air mood piece, and be confident the music-heads among their arena-size fan base will go on the head trip right along with them. Not thrilling, but solid.

-- Dan DeLuca, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Sturgill Simpson. “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music,” (Thirty Tigers)  3stars

The album title is an intriguing one, and the first number, "Turtles (All the Way Down)," is certainly a trippy affair, with its mentions of "reptile aliens" and mind-altering substances, as well as Jesus, Buddha, and the Devil. But don't be fooled: On his second album, Sturgill Simpson remains hard-core country at heart - more Waylon than way out.

Simpson might have more on his mind than the average honky-tonker or new-country hunk -- "Gonna transmigrate to my destination/ Far beyond time in an eternal dream," he sings on "Just Let Go." But his musings are tethered mostly to chip-kicking barroom twang, and he's not above delivering such age-old sentiments as this from the swaggering "Life of Sin": "Gonna drink myself silly/ Only way for this hillbilly." Like any good country boy, Simpson can also deliver a dose of straight-up gospel, as he does with "A Little Light Within."

-- Nick Cristiano, The Philadelphia Inquirer


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