The Rolling Stones - Blue and Lonesome - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Rolling Stones - Blue and Lonesome

by Steve Ricciutti Rating:10 Release Date:2016-12-02

Maybe they have little more to say (doubt it). Maybe they were just looking for a quick payday (wouldn’t be the first time). Or maybe they just took a hard look in the mirror and saw themselves as who they’ve always been: a great rhythm and blues band that mixes in the exact dosages of careful loving homage and white-boy British interpretation to make something uniquely wonderful and endearing.

Harkening back to their first few albums, Blue and Lonesome is essentially an updated version of those cover-heavy first albums when the band was still led by purist Brian Jones and his two lieutenants who later became The Glimmer Twins. This time around, however, most of their choices are a bit obscure so that would-be investigators are forced to dig a bit deeper than the Time-Life Blues Compilation their old man spins continuously. Thus, the band once again redelivers American blues to a massive audience; their endless debt, owed to the rural field hands and urban transplants that inspired them, is paid once more. Aside from Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” most notably bludgeoned to death by Led Zeppelin on their debut, there are no songs the casual blues fan might know off-hand, and the Stones capture the original integrity of the song much better than the bombast idealized in Jimmy Page’s rendition.

Mick Jagger’s vocals and harmonica playing are given plenty of showcasing on this disc as are Ronnie Wood’s yin to Keef’s yang, arguably the greatest guitar interplay in the history of the band. These two trade back and forth almost indecipherably, which is exactly why their tandem is so impressive. Fans of the golden era fall back to Mick Taylor’s fleet-fingered pentatonic noodling, but a closer listen over that era underscores his predictability and eventual (It’s Only Rock and Roll) self-indulgence. Oh, and fellow John Mayall alum Eric Clapton contributes some delicious work on “I Can’t Quit You Baby” and “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing” as well.

At seventy-some-odd years of age, Jagger’s vocals are stunning if just a tad too out front. I’ve always found that the murkiness of Exile on Main Street was the best sound the band has ever recorded. To be fair however, it’s important to note that the 2016 version of Michael Philip has the aged roughness of his idols that the 1963 version could only hope to ape with his shriller, younger pipes. Covering vocals as diverse as the gravelly growl of Howlin’ Wolf through the smooth croon of Little Walter, Jagger holds his own. The rest of the band rolls like a downhill snowball, just as ragged and dangerous.

The song choices incorporate the best of the blues, too: voodoo children, their mojo toys, and Satan at the control board, providing a weighty dose of the blues’ dark and ominous traits. Jimmy Reed’s “Little Rain” creeps like the footsteps of doom Reed laid down originally, and “Commit a Crime” conjures delicious visions of juke joint revenge killings (“You mixed my drinks with a can of Red Devil lye” is as pure blues as the crossroads). “All of Your Love” is yet another slow burner with veteran Stones’ pianist Chuck Leavell handling solo duties and Jagger at his most malevolent. Charlie Watts is also brilliant herein, demonstrating just how crucially his understated jazz influences anchor the band, and longtime paid extra Daryl Jones keeps the bottom solid if unobtrusive, both perfectly reflecting Keith Richards’ pacing.

Ronnie adds lots of his particularly whiny slide sound, stinging through the density and complimenting Jagger’s singing, while Richards keeps things on Keef time with blues guitar chops he learned to play as a teen but now effortlessly roll off his ancient hands. “Just Like I Treat You” maintains the jaunty vibe of Howlin’ Wolf’s original, with Ronnie doing his best to one-up the legendary Hubert Sumlin, while the title track impresses for just how much energy these septuagenarians can bring forth.

What stands out the most on this heartfelt effort is the compressed sound that captures the integrity of the genre. This is no over-produced, trebly, guitar gunslinger’s solo showcase like most of what rock fans have come to associate with the blues, but rather the stripped down and far more powerful renditions the creators laid down. Put simply, this is the blues as accurately revisited by some of the genre’s biggest devotees. Reportedly recorded over three days and with little post-performance studio enhancement, it’s a genuflection-worthy collection of how the Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World can still get it done forty plus years after critics first started writing the band off. The playing is sharp and tight, something only achieved when you’ve played together my entire lifetime.

Is Blue and Lonesome groundbreaking? No. Is it going to replace your current fave Stones album? Not likely. Does it make you want to put those Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf et al songs back in your regular rotation (or perhaps seek them out for the first time)? I think so. It damn sure did for me. Moreover, while it seems odd to award accolades to an album of covers, this is simply a brilliant offering, and may just be the perfect way for this band to ride off into the sunset, just as they began, so shall they ever be remembered. I can’t quit you baby, indeed.

Comments (2)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Wanted them to do this for decades. Great review.

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I had fairly low expectations to be honest, but this album was a helluva surprise. If this is the last studio work they do, they've gone out on a high note.

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