Photo: Getty Images
Leave it to the Rolling Stones to make an album consisting of blues covers relevant in 2016. Anticipation was it would be decent, good at best—and let’s be honest, covers albums are not much to get excited at— but surely not a contender for album of the year right? Wrong.
You could be forgiven for putting in question why four rich rockstars in their seventies would release a. After all it is rather late in the game for the lads. Wrong. Blue and Lonesome possesses all the qualities that made the Rolling Stones legends while delving into the band’s early sound. It’s a love affair. Each band member makes love to the blues resulting in a torrid affair for the ears.
Many point to Tattoo You as the Stones’ last hurrah, and that was back in 1981. That’s not to say the band hasn’t produced decent material since, however their best studio days are decades past. With each subsequent Stones album come the inevitable murmurs of “a return to their roots”. The album really is worthy of a such title with the band playing the songs that influenced them in their, um, youth. Blue and Lonesome puts its money where its mouth is and delivers on that statement.
It’s been 11 years since A Bigger Bang. Blue and Lonesome marks the Stones’23rd British and 25th American albums respectively to be exact—how do to the septuagenarians (although Ron Wood at 69 will always remain the “baby”) fare in the studio?
Well, I’m happy to report that Blue and Lonesome is the real deal. It’s raw, sexy and bold. Many rock bands have tinkered with the blues an attempted a similar approach, but few understand and play this music better than the Rolling Stones. This is more than a mere covers album. It’s an exploration and journey through the blues.
Recorded in three short days, it seems all too easy to write off the album as lazy. A covers album? Could it be that the Stones have run out of things to say? It’s clearly not the case as the conversation happens musically and admittedly, there’s plenty to say. Their take on these blues standards is rich and honest.
Blue and Lonesome exudes a lot of confidence. It’s old, yet it’s new. It’s organic, raw soulful and as promised—bluesy. This is the modern-vintage sound companies like Levis dream of using to sell jeans in their commercials.
Keith Richards’ playful is soulful and rich in emotions. It’s sad when needs be and straightforward when it should. Anyone still questioning his bluesmanship only needs to listen to Blue and Lonesome. His playing here is nicely complemented by Ronnie Woods. Mick Jagger is back on the harmonica and that’s a good thing. His playing is rich and warm, like rediscovering an old friend. It’s adds texture to the Stones’ sound. Charlie Watts, the oldest member of the band at 75, does a commendable job on the drums.
The list of artists covered goes back more than half a century. Names like Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon will no doubt be familiar to some while others such as are not likely to be recognized unless one possesses a vast collection of blues records.
The opening licks of Just Your Fool set the tone for what is a bulk of the album’s sound:, bouncy, straight ahead blues-infused rock. Commit a Crime is perfect contrast of happy music with dramatic lyrics, a staple of the blues. The title song, Blue and Lonesome is a heartfelt ballad brought to life by Jagger’s screams and Richard’s guitar fingering. All of Your Love is a diamond. A smooth, sexy number that makes the best use of instrumentation of any song on the album, particularly the piano. I Gotta Go is a fun fast-paced rollicking number with excellent harmonica. Just Like I Treat You is a vintage upbeat number with just the placement of piano. The album concludes on a high note with the classic blues staple I Can’t Quit You Baby, a song covered by the likes of Led Zeppelin and countless others. The Stones’ version pays tribute while simultaneously being unique. Jagger is an animal possessed on this cover and it’s beautiful.
The band’s passionate performance brings these oldies back to life. The fact that the Stones play this well at their age puts them in a category of their own. There’s just the right amount of added instrumentation on the album, be it piano here or harmonica there it makes a world of difference.
You can’t always get what you want, but any new Rolling Stones is welcome. And while it’s not revolutionary by any means—or everyone’s cup of tea—Blue and Lonesome is no Exile, but it’s a project the band can be damned proud of.