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Nation & World

Review: Dan Auerbach, 'Waiting On A Song'

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still at the bottom of the page.


Dan Auerbach's <em>Waiting On A Song</em>
/ Courtesy of the artist
Dan Auerbach's <em>Waiting On A Song</em>

As frontman of The Black Keys, Dan Auerbach has spent the last couple decades glancing longingly backward for inspiration. The band's consistently Grammy-snagging sound has drawn largely from garage rock and the blues, but Auerbach's new solo album, Waiting On A Song, is a joyous reminder that there's more than one way to be retro. Rather than relying on the stomping beats and big riffs of The Black Keys, Waiting On A Songwallows in a laidback vibe that spotlights a quality always present, yet never dominant in Auerbach's main project: his knack for crafting immaculate, indelible pop.

Each track on Waiting On A Song sparkles like a long-lost gem of early-'70s AM radio. Taken together, they could be the soundtrack to a Guardians Of The Galaxy film. "Malibu Man" drifts along on swirls of strings and a gently funky shuffle; Auerbach's voice is a study in sun-kissed bliss and hazy-afternoon melancholy. That understated groove continues on "Undertow," a song split evenly between The Guess Who's 1968 hit "These Eyes" and the softly sophisticated balladry of classic Motown. Auerbach rubs the sleep from his eyes on "Cherrybomb" and "Stand By My Girl," back-to-back songs that stomp, sway, and whistle their way through dreamy infatuation and swooning dedication. "Sweeter than an apple pie," he croons on the vaguely Tom Petty-like "Cherrybomb," and he aptly slathers on the sugar.

As befitting a record with such nostalgic overtones, Waiting On A Songboasts an impressive roster of veteran guest musicians. Guitar hero Duane Eddy lends his iconic twang to "Livin' in Sin" and "King Of A One Horse Town," the former an upbeat anthem that beautifully mixes the bookish hooks of Paul Simon with the glammed-up boogie of T. Rex, the latter a reverb-saturated ode to lonesomeness. Eddy has gone on record ranking Auerbach up there with George Jones and Ray Charles as a singer, and while he doesn't plumb that depth of heartbreak on Waiting On A Song, Auerbach flaunts his eerie ability to launch his easygoing voice into a the upper atmosphere on "Shine On Me." Sporting a guest appearance by Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler, the track is a masterpiece of clap-along power-pop perfectly calibrated for cars with the windows rolled down.

Waiting On A Song's title track is a collaboration with decorated songwriters John Prine and Pat McLaughlin, although you'd never know three people had their hands on such a seamless, uncluttered composition. Like some long-lost Traveling Wilbury's outtake, it's an effortless slab of classic songcraft filled with playful twists of phrase and airy harmonies. Prine and McLaughlin even appear in the song's video, and Prine is sharing the bill with Auerbach on his upcoming fall tour, which begins in November. In the meantime, Waiting On A Songwon't have any trouble holding fans' attention: This is a batch of sparkling pop songs that's sweet, breezy, and primed for summer.

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