dan auerbachAs the frontman for blues rock duo the Black Keys, Dan Auerbach is known for his raw, powerful rock ‘n’ roll songwriting and guitar playing. But on his first solo effort, Keep It Hid, it’s the simple, tender moments that stand out.

The album opens with one of those moments — “Trouble Weighs A Ton,” featuring Auerbach singing over a strummed acoustic guitar, with James Quine providing backing vocals as Auerbach attempts to soothe family members’ concerns.

But the strongest stuff lies right in the middle. Straightforward but not sparse, Auerbach sings over a piercing organ and electric guitar combo on “Real Desire.” The lyrics are just as biting, as he confronts an elusive lover, “You wanna set the world on fire / and a little man will never do / the things you think are real desire / oh darlin’, I see right through,” he accuses, before laying the hardest blow, “If you say you never meant to hurt me / oh, you would be a liar.”

Dan Auerbach, “Real Desire” (download)

Auerbach is back to playing the nice guy on the next track, “When The Night Comes.” Returning to acoustic guitar, a pleasant folk melody and airy, sustained keyboards sway together as he assures us, “Don’t be afraid / you’re only dreaming.”

The punchy, guitar-thumping tunes “I Want Some More,” “Heartbroken, In Disrepair” and “My Last Mistake” are solid efforts in their own right, but are so similar to Auerbach’s work with the Black Keys that their presence on a solo effort feels redundant.

But Auerbach can do more than play both ends of the spectrum – he falls happily in between sentiment and sensation just as well. The sexually charged “The Prowl” would be “tame” on a Black Keys record, but is a good second-half pick-up on Keep It Hid — same goes for the title track, which especially showcases Auerbach’s old bluesy howling and wailing.

Dan Auerbach, “Keep It Hid” (download)

Keep It Hid closes with the twangy, peppy, “Goin’ Home.” Auerbach laments, “I’ve spent too long away from home / did all the things I could have done,” but it seems he still has a few surprises left to show.

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