Since the Black Keys’ dropped their latest record, 2014’s Turn Blue, Dan Auerbach has been busy. In addition to a world tour the Keys’ took into early 2015, he followed that #1 album with a side project in the Arcs’ Yours, Dreamily. Also, he has steadily worked as a producer and collaborator on a number of projects: Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence, Nikki Lane’s All or Nothin, Cage the Elephant’s Tell Me I’m Pretty, and most recently with Chrissie Hynde on the Pretenders’ return Alone in 2016. Behind that work, he put together a brisk and sweet set of summery tunes with collaborators for his second solo album, Waiting on a Song.
Together with John Prine, Duane Eddy, David “Fergie” Ferguson, and Mark Knopfler, Waiting on a Song is equally rooted in a 1970s sound and his influences in Nashville, as well as by Auerbach’s extensive career and projects. The album also initiates his recently created label Easy Eye Sound, based out of the same named studio he owns and records at in Nashville. A “Nashville sound” is hard to miss on Waiting on a Song, from the collaborators and friends that notably dropped into Auerbach’s studio to the mood generated by the album’s tracks.
When Auerbach put out his debut solo record nearly eight years ago, Keep It Hid, his work ethic and productively was already noteworthy, particularly given the rise in status the Black Keys enjoyed with their 2008 release Attack and Release. But Keep It Hid built on the style of Attack and Release, while Waiting on a Song emphasizes smoother qualities (a “Nashville sound”) when it links to the pop qualities that flowed on Turn Blue. Where the most recent Keys album was also dark and moody, Waiting on a Song is bright and looking ahead in its revelry of Nashville and Auerbach’s influences.
Notably divergent even from the more recent Arcs side-project, Auerbach’s voice and guitar work shine in the bright atmosphere depicted throughout Waiting on a Song. Each of Auerbach’s collaborators infused the songs they appear on with their unique styles, such as “Shine on Me,” which features the distinctive guitar and style of Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler. John Prine’s presence on the title track is evident, too, and it’s a pleasant start that sets this album apart from Auerbach’s recent output as a performer and lead artist. If any track could be linked to either the Arcs’ album or the Keys, it’s “King of a One Horse Town”. Along with the deeper voice Auerbach has sung with on previous albums, there’s an orchestral component that creates a unique atmosphere at the midpoint of the album overall.
The second half of the album dives deeper into the positivity Auerbach portrays in his ode to Nashville and this debut for his own label. “Never In My Wildest Dreams” is folksy, jazzy, and hopeful, slow in its start, but bolder as it progresses and Auerbach’s singing is joyful in a noticeable cadence that matches the music and its arrangement. A twangy, loose guitar permeates “Cherry Bomb”, and the song also carries a deliberate vocal delivery.
Auerbach’s skill as a performer, arranger, writer, and producer, is that he maintains a stylistic presence from track to track on the albums he works, and with each song on Waiting on a Song there are purposeful shifts in tone that still carry the album’s mood and loose quality. Upon initial listen there are jarring qualities to some of the shifts, such as from “Cherry Bomb” to “Stand By My Girl”, but that fades upon deserved multiple listens, and the style throughout the album is enjoyably present.
So much of the roll out for Waiting on a Song built up its status debuting Auerbach’s studio in Nashville and celebrating the community of performing and collaborators he enjoys in his new hometown (since moving from Akron, Ohio, in 2010). Celebrating his influences and paying homage are admirable and generate a joyous, entertaining album, but it ends too quickly. At a short (comparatively) 33 minutes, this album doesn’t slow down at any point, but then it’s over too quickly. Perhaps that’s a good set-up to inspire multiple listens or designed to leave you listening for more, and both happened to me.
Dan Auerbach’s second studio album Waiting on a Song is an ode to the community he’s surrounded himself in Nashville, as well as a nice future looking set of songs. The album’s overall style and mood are best depicted in its final track, “Show Me”. There’s an element of conclusion and sense that the song was written for driving away after good times. Auerbach’s career is full, and his work is constant, aspects seeming to deserve a vacation. Waiting On a Song represents that vacation: he’s having fun with friends, playing spontaneous, and performing tunes that pay ode to a “Nashville sound” and his myriad influences.