Black Pistol Fire might be the greatest Black Keys tribute band ever. The weird thing is, they don’t seem to realize they’re a Black Keys tribute band, even though everything about them screams The Big Come Up and Rubber Factory and Magic Potion. Everything, that is, except the voice of lead singer Kevin McKeown, who sadly lacks the timless, tortured, old-black-guy-trapped-in-a-young-white-guy’s-body quality of The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach.
The similarities are more than just cosmetic. Like the Keys, Black Pistol Fire is a scratchy guitar ‘n’ drums duo that attacks stripped-down blues rock with primal ferocity. The songs often sound like throwbacks to an earlier, pre-punk era, with a preponderance of numbers — “Where You Been Before”, “Jezebel Stomp”, “Trigger on My Fire”, “Jackknife Darlin’”—falling into the vein of fast-paced boogie-rock. In this way, Black Pistol Fire does try to carve out something of a niche for itself; while the Keys’ records always contained plenty of slower, bluesy numbers mixed in with the faster tunes, Black Pistol Fire tend more toward the uptempo end of the spectrum.
Unfortunately, their more memorable songs tend to be slower, crunchier, and angstier, which of course also means they sound more like The Black Keys. Sorry to keep harping on this, but it’s really inescapable.
The album kicks off with “Cold Sun”, a pleasantly crunchy little tune featuring a nifty hook of distorted guitar and McKeown’s somwhat thin, whiny vocals. Eric Owen proves a competent drummer — like Pat Carney in the Keys, Owen may be Black Pistol Fire’s secret weapon, the driving force that lets the front man noodle and howl without losing momentum. “Cold Sun” is followed by “Suffocation Blues”, one of those slow songs that draws inevitable comparisons to that other band — with its reverb-y guitar tone and chord progression, the song sounds like an outtake from Magic Potion. McKeown comes off the worse here, as his voice simply lacks Auerbach’s world-weariness and has nothing with which to replace it.
And so it goes. The album contains a generous thirteen songs, all but one in the two-to-four-minute range, but having listened to the first half dozen tracks, there are few surprises in the back half of the record—the Southern-rock vibe of “Black Eyed Susan” is an exception. There are occasional tempo changes or lead breaks in tunes like “Where You Been Before” or “Sort Me Out”, but the inherent difficulties in mining new and interesting sonic ore out of limited resources becomes apparent as the record winds down. It’s a testament to the passion of the musicians involved that energy and commitment takes them as far as it does. Not to mention the occasional clever lyric: “Got you where I want to / And that ain’t no place to be”.
This isn’t a bad record at all. Taken for what it is, it’s pretty darn convincing slab of roots-boogie-garage rock, and back in, oh, 2001 or so, I would’ve loved it. Somewhere there’s an alternate universe with no Black Keys, and on that planet Earth, this record is whipping up a storm of excitement. Alas, that’s not a planet any of us are living on.
// Notes from the Road
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