Friday, December 9, 2016

Rolling Stones 49: Blue & Lonesome

Another constant in the history of the Rolling Stones—post-‘80s, anyway—is that anytime Keith goes out on his own, Mick reels him in to do another Stones album. Why else would they be cutting tracks a full ten years after their last studio full-length? If the liner notes are to be believed, a detour from those recent sessions led to spirited takes on blues covers from their personal libraries, and within three days, they had an album’s worth of tracks, which they then sat on for nearly a full year before releasing them as Blue & Lonesome. (It’s not like it took all that time to design the cover.)
On paper it sounds great: the Stones playing the blues, just like they started out. Some are slow, some are dirty, all have energy; take the spirit of “Black Limousine” from Tattoo You and you get the general feeling. Every now and then there’s an echo of their first albums, just not as tinny. If, again, the liner notes are to be believed, these were all single takes, with no overdubs. And if Mick really managed to nail his vocals in one pass, we owe the guy an apology, since he sounds really good here. (We have no such questions about his harp ability; the kid can blow, even at 72. These guys are now older than the legends they grew up idolizing.)
It’s the four full-time Stones here, with Darryl Jones relegated to the sub-credits for each tune, along with Chuck Leavell and Matt Clifford on various keyboards, and Eric Clapton on two songs wherein you have to really pay attention to pick him out. The song choices are particularly commendable, being mostly lesser-known compositions by either or associated with Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Jimmy Reed and the like. A track-by-track rundown doesn’t seem necessary, but suffice it to say that the songs don’t all sound alike. “Just Your Fool” is a snappy starter, “Commit A Crime” opens with the familiar drum fill from “Love Is Strong”, and the title track spells out the ampersand. “All Of Your Love” isn’t exactly like the one familiar to Clapton and Aerosmith fans, though “I Can’t Quit You Baby” is likely to start arguments among those who know Zeppelin. While relatively short, “Hoo Doo Blues” plods a bit, but “Little Rain” accomplishes more with its own slow tempo. (Suffice it also to say that Ian Stewart, their original piano player and long-suffering road manager, would’ve loved this album.)
There must be people out there still hoping that the Stones will release another classic album before they’ve all left us, and there are just as many people, if not more, who figure the band has nothing to prove, and wonder why they bother. (Well, besides money.) If we take Blue & Lonesome on the basis for what it is—12 blues covers by one of the best-ever British blues bands—it’s a good album. It’s not embarrassing in the least, nobody’s chasing any contemporary trend, and Charlie’s sounding good tonight, inny? Let’s just hope they don’t tour behind it.

Rolling Stones Blue & Lonesome (2016)—3

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