At first glance, Delta Kream—the 10th studio album from the blues-rock duo the Black Keys—appears to embody a hoary rock’n’roll cliché. It’s a collection of covers Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney learned to play when they were younger, an attempt to get back where they once belonged.
In the case of the Black Keys, that spiritual home lies in the Mississippi Delta, the swamp that gave birth to American blues. Plenty of legendary musicians played Delta blues in the early 20th century, but Auerbach and Carney were drawn chiefly to Junior Kimbrough, a Mississippi bluesman whose career didn’t take off until the 1990s, when the future Black Keys members were teenagers.
Delta Kream isn’t the first time the Black Keys have paid explicit tribute to Junior Kimbrough. He’s been a constant presence in their work, a songwriter they’ve frequently covered, as they did at length on the 2006 EP Chulahoma. Kimbrough originally recorded about half of the songs the Black Keys cut for Delta Kream; his Delta colleague R.L. Burnside—another Mississippi bluesman who experienced a late-life renaissance in the 1990s—is responsible for two other songs on the record. The Black Keys didn’t limit their Kimbrough connection to the repertoire. His former bassist Eric Deaton rounds out the rhythm section, while Burnside’s guitarist sat in on the two-day, 10-hour session that happened at the conclusion of the Black Keys supporting tour for 2019’s “Let’s Rock”.